Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year. New Decade. How Long?

How quickly the year 2009 ended. My journey in ministry since October felt like the bullet train moving through the days towards the just completed holiday season.

The North American Division Year-end meetings in early November were highlighted by the "Year of Evangelism" reports which showed a marked increase in soul-winning endeavors. (It will be telling to see the final numbers on baptisms given the surge in spending for meetings.)

Jennifer and I were blessed to be with our friend Elder Jan Kaatz for the 100th anniversary of the Burbank Church on November 21. Jan and I served together at the Simi Valley Church in
Southern California Conference and he has really taken the challenge of turning a declining congregation in a new direction of growth and mission. Nice presentations were make by local civic officials and the leadership of the Conference.

The El Monte Vietnamese Church was quite an eye-opening experience. As I preached for two services (traditional Vietnamese and a youth service in English) on December 5 the challenge and opportunity of Pastor Vinah Nguyen who has served this church for 13 years. This is truly a missionary church that is not only serving the transitioning population of Vietnamese people in Los Angeles but also the world field with a printing press ministry. I didn't need to understand the language to comprehend the wide-ranging impact of this congregation.

A highlight for these waning weeks of the year was the Ordination service which I conducted with Elder Ivan Williams on December 12. The five evangelists serving the Amazing Facts ministry that were set aside by the laying on of hands brought back happy memories of my own ordination in 1988. Preaching for the morning service at the Granite Bay church was an inspiring experience particularly because so many in the audience were folks interested in the Adventist Church or new members. At the close I gave a hand-raising appeal for committing our lives to Christ and His teachings.

The end of the decade. How long until we shall see Jesus coming in the clouds of heaven? We don't know the day nor the hour but we can "work until Jesus comes." I'm thinking and praying about how 2010 can become a year of breakthroughs for Jesus in my life and yours.

God bless you in the Year to Come!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Would You Like To Get Away?

Quiet spaces promote reflection.

Nestled along the coast of Mendocino County, CA sits Albion Field Station operated by Pacific Union College. This was the destination for our 2nd Annual Board of Trustees Strategic Retreat.

Gibby Muth (retired professor) and Larry Provonsha (board member for 28 years) have devoted tremendous effort to the refurbishing of the property. The results speak for themselves. Brightly appointed rooms, private baths, wireless internet, and comfortable meeting rooms. These improvements have greatly enhanced the experience of students, staff, professors, community and church groups, and...the Board!

Our time was divided between learning more about board governance, socializing as members, conducting important business, and simply benefiting from the soul-renewing setting. It was particularly wonderful to meet the new "First Couple" of our College-Dr. Heather Knight, President, and her husband Elder Norman Knight. Her enthusiasm, vision, and remarkable qualifications were all on display as she shared goals for the future with us.

I'm already looking forward to our next meeting in the Fall of 2010. Until then remember Pacific Union College in your prayers. And by the way, the Albion Field Station is available for your use any time. Check their website at

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Keep on Shining

Since 1897, people in Provo, UT have been making friends with Jesus Christ through the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Today was a defining moment for the community that gathered in the newly-completed Community Center of this historic congregation.

As Jennifer and I walked into the Center the smell of paint still lingered in the air. Over 200 chairs were readied for the crowd that would assemble to dedicate this space to the Lord's service at 11:00 a.m. As we toured the offices, classrooms, and large gymnasium I recalled just a few months before when it was a dirt parking lot, unfinished walls, and exposed electrical and duct work that greeted the eye.

Transformation occurred quickly! And not only the physical space but also in the paradigm of purpose for this new location on the church grounds. What makes this project unique in my eyes is that the church is not hoarding this space exclusively for its own use. The Red Cross, the Utah Bell Choir, the Boys and Girls Club, the United Way, and many others will use this as the gathering place for service.

By church time every seat was occupied. Special guests included the mayor and all the contractors that made this facility possible. It was evident from all the community friends that joined in this hour of dedication that this was truly an event that had captured city-wide attention. We sang, I offered a dedication meditation and prayer, local elder Brad Walton presented a gracious biblical message, and Linda Walton recognized the contributions of the people who had made this day come to reality. This joyous day ended with food--lots of it!

As we departed Provo Church it occurred to us that rather than an end this was truly a new
beginning. The spirit of service that brought the first Adventist evangelist to Provo, UT in 1897 will continue to light the way for this special congregation. Driving off to our next appointment the words of Jesus came to mind, "Let your light shine before men that they may glorify your Father who is in heaven."

Keep shining, Provo Church!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Tinsletown Gospel

As I walked the neighborhood around the Hollywood Seventh-day Adventist Church on Sabbath afternoon it occurred to me how differently things would've looked decades ago. There are still quaint little homes along Van Ness that hearken to a less sprawling period of this section of Los Angeles. One of the members reminded me that Elder Lloyd Wyman was the pastor who helped build this church. (Not surprising since Elder Wyman has had a part in so many parts of Southern California Conference's development and leadership over his many years of service).

The Hollywood community has changed and the church has changed with it. Visiting with
members between Sabbath School and Church the long-ago emergence of diversity was reflected in the faces of the people. Together they are the Body of Christ reaching out to a uniquely challenging city of souls.

Together we raised our voices in worship, prayer, and praise to the Lord who saves us by His grace. My sermon on the meaning of Jesus' story of the Good Samaritan (it was not told merely to remind us to be nice to the needy!) spoke to the contemporary challenge of this church and their sincere response to Jesus' call to be salt and light in the heart of the
entertainment industry. It was encouraging to share "a word" with a full church of listeners who listened and responded to the words of Christ.

But its not tycoons and moguls that populate the streets of this city. Homelessness, mental illness, and people simply in need of someone to care is the reality of life in Hollywood. It is these--"the least of them"--that the Hollywood church is particularly intentional in serving in the Master's name. I was particularly impressed with the announcement by one leader that they would be "walking the neighborhood" later in the week just meeting and talking with people.

In the afternoon it was a special privilege for me to listen as my wife, Jennifer, teach her seminar, "The Ten Commandments of Christian Finance." Like no other presentation I have ever heard, she shows Biblically faithful principles of money as they relate to each command of the Decalogue. Her class of listeners responded with questions and she stayed by for some time answering individual questions. I expect she will be back again to teach the the budgeting and money management workshop that adds specificity and practicality to these spiritual lessons.

I am reminded again of the work of Jesus that we are called to do in His name--ministry to all, for all, in all, by all.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


I strode down the aisle of the La Sierra University Church in my blue and gold trustee robe. The organ music filled the church and the students and staff filled the pews.

Academic Convocation for the 2009-2010 school year at LSU commenced with the faculty, staff, and trustees (just me, actually!) joining the platform party for the spiritual dedication of the University. President Randal Wisbey would issue the challenge, "We Shall Be the Light of the World."

I am always drawn to the music of such an event. "Now Thank We All Our God" swelling from the church organ, a skillful violin solo by Jason Uyeyama, and the moving rendering of "This Little Light of Mine" by the LSU Chamber singers.

For this reason I was particularly inspired by a special hymn set to Beethoven's well-known tune, "Ode to Joy" (used for Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal #12, "Joyful, joyful, We Adore Thee"). Entitled "Praise the Source of Faith and Learning" and written by Thomas H. Troeger, it is a beautiful lyric describing the aspirations of Seventh-day Adventist higher education.

Praise the Source of Faith and Learning

Praise the source of faith and learning
Who has sparked and stoked the mind
With a passion for discerning
How the world has been designed.
Let the sense of wonder flowing
From the wonders we survey
Keep our faith forever growing
And renew our need to pray:

God of wisdom, we acknowledge
That our science and our art
And the breadth of human knowledge
Only partial truth impart.
Far beyond our calculation
Lies a depth we cannot sound
Where your purpose for creation
And the pulse of life are found.

May our faith redeem the blunder
Of believing that our thought
Has displaced the grounds for wonder
Which the ancient prophets taught.
May our learning curb the error
Which unthinking faith can breed
Lest we justify some terror
With an antiquated creed.

As two currents in a river
Fight each others’ undertow
‘Til converging they deliver
One coherent steady flow.
Blend, O God, our faith and learning
‘Til they carve a single course
While they join as one returning
Praise and thanks to you their source.

Praise for minds to probe the heavens,
Praise for strength to breathe the air,
Praise for all that beauty leavens,
Praise for silence, music, prayer.
Praise for justice and compassion
And for strangers, neighbors, friends,
Praise for hearts and lips to fashion,
Praise for love that never ends.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Return

It was a nostalgic return for Jennifer and I when we stepped into the fellowship hall. Faces and voices not seen or heard for 20 years greeted us for the beginning of the Burr Ridge Church 30th Anniversary celebration. It was in this congregational family that I was ordained as a Seventh-day Adventist minister in 1988 so this weekend was particularly meaningful for me.

Sabbath morning I taught the Sabbath School lesson on the themes of 1 John. But as I never forgot when I was the pastor of this congregation from 1987-1989, my audience was again populated by bright minds that find it easy to express their views. Beginning my favorite
passage of the epistle--1 John 3:1-2, I talked about my own spiritual journey and then invited the class to work through 3 questions in sequence--"How has your picture of God impacted your life?", "How does this picture of God affect our congregational life?", and "How does our view of God impact our outreach in the community?" With microphone in hand I hosted the ongoing discussion. It was fun and inspiring.

Sabbath worship included two beautiful anthems by the choir and a thoughtful sermon by Dr. Darrel Ward, one of the 4 men who pastored this congregation. My contribution to the worship hour was calling for the offering--"Fall Mission Appeal." Our friends, Ken and Pat Denslow (Illinois Conference President) were in the audience and we enjoyed a nice visit during the nice luncheon that followed. A panel discussion with the 4 pastors who have served this church gave us each the opportunity to share our journeys since the Burr Ridge days as well as reflect on the current challenge of the congregation to purchased their own building.

It was a wonderful time of fellowship and reminded us how quickly this earthly life passes by but how "blessed is the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love."

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Our Father who art in Los Angeles

I'm sitting in a small guest office room in the administrative suite of the White Memorial Hospital in Los Angeles, CA at the moment. As a member of the Operating Board of this historical Adventist hospital for the past 18 months I have been learning anew why Adventist health care remains "the right arm of the church."

In my past life, I've served as a hospital chaplain, board member, ethics committee member, and visited scores of members over my ministry in hospitals. My mother-in-law is a nurse, my wife has worked in physicians offices, hospitals, at Adventist Health headquarters, and is in health care consulting today. And my children both are employed at Glendale Adventist Medical Center today.

So, I know a bit about Adventist hospitals.

But something simple moved me today. That simple something reminded me why we do this health care thing all around the world as well in a needy area in East Los Angeles.

At Noon I joined the Medical Executive Committee at the White for their meeting. As a board member I was invited at a previous meeting and really wanted to take them up on their offer. The physicians heading each hospital medical department were gathered around a very plain set of tables next to the cafeteria. The President of the Medical Staff opened the meeting. Food was sitting nearby ready to eat. And then, very matter-of-factly and obviously as a natural part of every meeting the President of the Staff said, "Let's begin with prayer."

Now, at church meetings this is quite expected. We're all Seventh-day Adventists. Most of the circles I sit in these days, we're all administrative leaders. So praying is just a normal agenda item.

But today I was looking at the circle that was ready to pray. Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Jewish, and the non-religious together at this table bowed their heads as the prayer began, "Our Father in heaven...." What followed was a beautifully simple and earnest prayer from the chair of the OB-GYN department. My heart was touched. These are men and women who want to help people fine health and they have come to an Adventist Hospital that leads them to pray together as the everyday mission of extending the caring of Jesus is administered to a community that needs us.

I'm getting ready to head to the Operating Board Meeting now. We'll talk about safety, hear budget reports, and yes...start with prayer. Prayer. It's not just for church anymore! It's for everyday life in a hospital that ministers to others in Jesus name. Amen!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

esprit de corps

In 2004 I was introduced to my first Nevada-Utah Regional Convocation in Salt Lake City, UT when I had been President of the Conference for just a few months. Still getting to know people around my field, I was impressed with the warmth and esprit de corps that exuded this gathering.

This Sabbath Jennifer and I returned for my 5th Convocation, this time in Sparks, NV. Pastor Kingsley Palmer has organized these events each time I have attended and has been used by the Lord to create an inspirational environment for members to draw closer to one another and to Jesus.

The music and preaching for the Sabbath worship hour was rich. Following lunch we adjourned to the neighboring Y.M.C.A. for the "Bible Bowl"--yours truly was drafted as one of the "judges." How exciting to see these young people energized by their knowledge of the Scriptures.

After a change of clothes following the setting of the sun the evening was devoted to a friendly basketball round-robin tournament. I insisted that "the union office is officially neutral" about which region of the field won. Jennifer enjoyed holding the babies and little kids on her lap while we clapped for our favorite players. Trophies were presented to every team as we shut down the place at 12:15 a.m. Sunday morning.

What a great way to start the week! It was a blessed Sabbath fellowship with our brothers and sisters.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Tahoe Baptism

"As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, "Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?" (Acts 8:36)

As we walked down the wooden stairs to the sand of a boulder-strewn beach at Lake Tahoe it occurred to me that this was the way baptisms would've been done in the early years of the Christian Church. "They came to some water..." writes Dr. Luke in the story of Philip and the Ethiopian official. Today this passage again came to reality as Phyllis and Roy were taking this important step in their spiritual lives--the former to be baptized for the first time and the later to recommit his life to Christ.

As we waded out into the cool waters of the lake I saw about 100 people who would be the
impromptu witnesses to this important day. About 30 yards from the shore the water was about waist deep and just right to fulfill the example of Jesus, "baptism--the immersion." No sprinkling here at Lake Tahoe. Down into what the old evangelists called "the watery grave" went our two disciples. Each rose with a quick inhalation of breath from the cold water on their faces. It was as if each was coming to life again.

My wife Jennifer later recounted to
us a conversation between several onlookers as I raised my hand for the blessing and then submerged each candidate into the water. "Hey look, that's a baptism going on out there. I was baptized as a Christian." And then a beat later added, "I'm not practicing it right now, though." (Reflecting later I considered that if possessed of more of the boldness of Peter or Philip I would've leaped onto the boulders and made a call for baptism to the beach crowd.)

Coming out of the water I wasn't a bit chilly. The warmth of that moment drove away any thought of wind or wave. What happiness came in baptizing two fine people on this sunny day at Lake Tahoe. The Sabbath is a day celebrating the Creator of all life. And today we also lived Paul's promise in 2 Corinthians 5:17--"If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!"

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Lesson of Oshkosh

I look behind me to see 35,000 young people singing, praying, clapping, worshipping.

My eyes turn back to a stage that brought the story of Esther to life every night. Holding the rapt attention of Pathfinders from around the world.

Next to me sits a young man from Mexico who, with sparkling joy on his face, explains how
wonderful it is to sit on a camp chair in the middle of an airfield in Oshkosh, WI with Seventh-day Adventists his own age who are excited about Jesus.

My heart stirs with admiration and pride as thousands upon thousands of young Adventists march in parade formation past Jennifer and me. The sounds of the drums may drown out all other sounds but the smiles on the faces of children from every point of the North American compass speak volumes.

Pathfinder honors earned. Club pins exchanged. Community service projects engaged in. Wal-Mart running out of bottled water by Friday night. Camporee is like nothing else I've ever been to--including several General Conference sessions.

I leave the campground after several days feeling light, encouraged, and inspired.

The youth of our church are indeed ready and able to lead the mission of this church. These 35,000 Pathfinders--
along with their dedicated volunteer directors, counselors, and supporters--taught me this lesson in Oshkosh, WI.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The beautiful campus of Pacific Union College was the setting for the annual Hispanic Pastor's Meeting again this year. Elder Jorge Soria, our Union Director for Hispanic ministry invited me to join them on Monday, July 27th and give the 11:00 a.m. message.

It was a joy to see some of the pastors that I worked with from the Nevada-Utah Conference--Armando Juarez and David Valesquez as well as colleagues from the other conferences I have had the opportunity to work with over the past years I've served in the Pacific Union territory.

The work among the Spanish-speaking people in our Union is a fast-growing and challenging work for our pastors. They work very hard and often face challenges uniquely their own as compared with what we in the English work typically cope with.

With this in mind I was praying and contemplating what message would be encouraging to them during their retreat time. I had a particular message prepared but as I sat in the audience and interacted with some of my brothers I felt a strong impression to change my topic. (Nothing new for you pastors who follow this blog.) I chose my text as Ephesians 2:8-10 focusing on the phrases of Paul regarding God's workmanship in us and his preparation for us to do good works beforehand. The illustration of this text--and the bulk of my message--was my personal testimony of coming to Jesus Christ and the journey of my life.

The faces in the audience radiated recognition--we've all been there and can give our own testimony to His leading. As we closed our worship time together it was my prayer for these fellow pastors that they sense anew that every one of us is a unique workmanship of the Master builder of souls. Thank God for his leading in each of our lives.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Friday Sunset

As the sun sets in the Cold Springs Valley north of Reno, NV, I am praising the Lord for the gift of the Sabbath. This 24-hour "temple in time" draws my thoughts to the One who calls me His child and offer the invitation, "Come apart of rest awhile."

The realization that every person springs from the loving hand of the Creator God brings a sublime joy and recurring meaning to my life. Genesis 1 and 2 describe the world as God designed it to be in from the outset. Perfect in form and function from the smallest microbe to the greatest mammal. And the crowning act of this loving Designer was humanity--created "a little lower than the angels" says the Psalmist--to be the steward of it all.

Sin has marred the perfection of God's creation but all is not lost. As Paul observes in Romans 1:19-20: "Since what may be known about God is plain...for since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made." Death has come because of sin and the curse of its consequences are on display. But even through this gauze we may still perceive the intention of what was. And more importantly a promise of what is to come!

The Sabbath also reminds me of the Creator who redeems my lostness. The Divine Architect died and then rose again from death for His children. Even me...even you! Wonderfully, His promise is that what once was will return in perfection again when He speaks and the earth is again perfection. Revelation 21:5 records these insistent words of the Creator: "I am making everything new!"

The Sabbath makes me think of...long for...plan Creator's return appearance to do what He promised.

Until then I'll drink in the rich scent of the lilac flowers cut from my garden and enjoy another Sabbath. Both gifts from Jesus, my Friend.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Catching Sparks!

The Sabbath dawns bright and beautiful today in Spark, NV as the Northern Nevada Youth Federation gathers to worship and praise the Lord. The Sparks Amphitheater is the setting for singing by "United in Christ"--a talented group of local young people who's rendition of "The Midnight Cry" carries well beyond the confines of the pavilion into the streets of Sparks.

Young (and young at heart) are challenged by the speaker of the hour, Elder Philip Baptiste, pastor in the Rocky Mountain Conference, as he leads the assembled congregation through the question, "Who are you?" I am impressed as Pastor Baptiste takes us through the list: "I am a Man, a Christian Man, a Seventh-day Adventist Christian Man, a Seventh-day Adventist Christian Man who is Changed!" It was a message that stays with you beyond the worship hour. The altar call at the close yielded about a dozen precious souls who will be preparing for baptism!

Jennifer and I enjoyed seeing our friends from the area, showing wedding pictures to those who asked, and being encouraged by the talent and commitment of the people who sang, praised God, and proclaimed the Gospel in such a public venue this Sabbath day.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Wedding Bells

This coming Sunday our son Tyler will be joined in marriage to a wonderful girl that is already a daughter to Jennifer and myself. Kristin Blalock and Tyler met at Pacific Union College and are one of those "perfect match" couples. We felt this way very early on in their relationship as they spent time together around us. God does indeed bring people together at the right time and place in their lives.

At 5:00 p.m. on April 19 I will have the joy to perform their wedding service in the presence of their family and friends in Temecula, CA. Writing the wedding homily for my son's wedding has been a memorable experience--particularly because something unique happens when you think of your kids taking such a big step in life. I've described it like this: I look at this grown man yet I also in the same moment simultaneously see my 5-year-old little boy that I put on my shoulders when his legs got tired. I suppose that parents never quite get past that image--at least not for me.

When he stands before me with his wife-to-be I am reminded that almost 28 years ago I did the same thing with the girl I loved and with whom I wanted to spend my life with together. The "circle of life" does indeed turn around on us and brings us to familiar things with your children.

It's a tremendous time and I'm praising God that those I love will be with us for this moment, as well. My mother, sisters and their families, brother, and friends from years past will join in blessing for this new family being formed on April 19, 2009.

How is this a "Journey in Ministry"? Well, I'm doing another wedding! But this time it's PERSONAL!

May God bless you this upcoming Sabbath with the joy of love.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Youth Ready to Serve

Paul writes to his young protege, Timothy, these words of encouragement:

Get the word out. And don't let anyone put you down because you're young. Teach believers with your life: by word, by demeanor, by love, by faith, by integrity. Stay at your post reading Scripture, giving counsel, teaching. (1 Timothy 4:12--The Message)

I was asked to facilitate the Senior Theology interview process for Pacific Union College this year. What a joy it was to join conference presidents and ministerial secretaries in meeting these dedicated men and woman as they reach the finale of their training at PUC.

We began with breakfast at 7:00 a.m. with the Junior theology majors. It was a pleasant surprise to see one of my former (and much younger) church members from Simi Valley who is now preparing for ministry among this group.

With a brief introduction to the Seniors we would interview we made our way to the Religion department where Dr. Leo Ranzolin kept us all on track for the 25 minute interviews with each student. Without exception this was a faith-affirming experience as we heard the testimony of young men and one young woman committed to serve the Lord they love. A lovely luncheon provided by the Pacific Union Conference capped off the experience with these wonderful students.

As we have done every year I have participated in this process (first as Nevada-Utah President and how as Union Secretary) a "debriefing" was held with the Religion faculty. These are hard-working professionals who care deeply for every one of the students they lead through the 4 or 5 years of spiritual discovery. Their openness to provide the very best for their "charges" was an encouragement to us. We are truly a "team" building young leaders for the Kingdom.

We left with a prayer that the Lord who calls will also equip us as the Church to find places of service for these dedicated young disciples of Jesus.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Camelback Sabbath

It was a sunny Sabbath in Phoenix, AZ as I drove to the Camelback Seventh-day Adventist Church. The Arizona ASI convocation was gathering. As I entered the sanctuary the friendly greeting of Mary Jo Oft, one of our ASI members, graced the foyer. (See for more information about this lay-led ministry of the Pacific Union)

After a spirited Sabbath School discussion I was blessed during the worship service by the outstanding musical talent of the Camelback Church family. It was a special joy to look out into the audience as I began my sermon and see by friend, Elder Tony Anobile, Arizona Conference President.

In the shade of the the outside patio I visited over lunch with a wonderful couple from Canada. One topic of our discussion was the "1-day Church", the ASI sponsored effort to build a basic church structure for thousands of congregations throughout the world. (Again, see to learn more about this project.) We were soon joined by Elder Anobile and Pastor Charles White, as together we enjoyed the potluck fare so generously provided by the church.

The 2:00 p.m. program was hosted by our Arizona ASI President where we heard exciting reports of God's working through committed business owners. Our special guest was Raymond Chow who serves as Executive Secretary of the National ASI. As we closed in prayer it was with confidence that God is using so many people to hasten the proclamation of the Gospel both in Arizona and around the world.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Pacific Rim in the Pacific Union

Jesus Saves!
Waft it on the rolling tide:
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Tell to sinners far and wide:
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Sing, ye islands of the sea;
Echo back, ye ocean caves;
Earth shall keep her jubilee:
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!

This song came to mind as I sat together with pastoral representatives from many of those “islands of the sea”—Indonesia, Japan, Philippines and Tonga,--as well as the nations of Korea, China, and others.

The Asian-Pacific pastors of the Pacific Union gathered in the ballroom of the Palms Hotel in Thousand Oaks, California for several days this past week. Elder George Atiga invited me to present a devotional thought for the final morning. My subject, “Haiku Gospel”, spoke of the succinct way that God presents His Truth about Himself, us, and our destiny with Him.

The joy of the journey for me was to again meet colleagues from past fields of labor as well as make new friends from among the wonderful team of Asian-Pacific workers who labor in the many language groups scattered throughout the seven conferences of the Pacific Union. Their witness, in a literal sense, fulfills the poetry of the hymn. Together they proclaim, “Jesus saves! Jesus saves!”

My devotional closed with a Haiku written by my wife, Jennifer, last Sabbath afternoon. It speaks to me so beautifully of the work of the Trinity for our salvation. Notice that it follows the form of the English Haiku of three lines, 5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables.

Gave His only Son
Watched Him live a perfect life.
Welcomed Him back Home.

Born in a manger
Lived the life that I could not.
Died that I might live.

Quietly teaches
Rejoices when I listen.
Never abandons.

All three are involved.
One gave, One died, One Comforts.
As One—Salvation.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Experiencing New Life In Las Vegas

Sabbath morning, February 7, was a rainy one in Las Vegas, NV. As the needed precipitation drenched the dry lands of southern Nevada the chill quickly vanished as we received a warm welcome from the New Life greeters.

My first impression was, "A studying church is a growing church." The Sabbath School program focusing upon the Bible's teaching regarding the "gift of tongues" was the most creative approach I had ever witnessed. More than just passing along information, the Biblical lessons were ingeniously reinforced by an "interview" with a "surprise guest" that in an engaging manner helped the audience experience the practical impact of "Truth." I shared with the teachers of the day how wonderful it would be for more members to hear this clear presentation.

The Divine Service was highlighted with beautiful congregational music, a children's story that kept adults engaged, and the challenge to each young person to watch "Gifted Hands", the TNT story of the Adventist neurosurgeon Dr. Benjamin Carson. Their written reports would be judged at the upcoming "AY" meeting with the best essay rewarded with a prize. (This was just one example of how this congregation intentionally works at and succeeds in helping the youth of the church feel fully engaged in "church.")

The congregation was both attentive and responsive as I presented the sermon on building one's relationship with Christ through a commitment to His Word. A wonderful surprise for us was hearing the lovely songs sung by vocalist Pam Carter--the daughter of our own Bobby Mitchell--which capped off the Sabbath service with musical inspiration.
Jennifer and I were blessed by continued fellowship at the home of our friends Pastor Donald and Katrina McCloud. As she always does, Sister McCloud had an abundant feast for her guests which included new friends visiting from out-of-town. After several hours of stimulating conversation, we closed the Sabbath together with the prayer and promise to see one another soon.

Monday, February 9, 2009

What A Fellowship!

When asked about leadership into the unknown tomorrow, the visionary business guru Peter Drucker observed: "The future? The thing that got us here will not get us there." He was referencing the managment systems used by business leaders over the past 50 years. It occurs to me that the church doens't get a "pass" regarding this axiom.

I'm not talking about our theology. The Biblical truths that have emerged from the Seventh-day Adventist commitment to "the Bible as our only rule of faith and practice" are timeless in their revelation of the character and direction of God for life.

It is our methodology, our management systems, our approaches to bringing the eternal Good News to each new generation that ought to be periodically evaluated for its effectiveness, quality, and value. And there is little doubt that the 20-something generation is doing just that. How shall we respond?

This formed the backdrop for the time I spent with the dedicated people who carry the elected title of "Executive Secretary" in the 7 Conferences of the Pacific Union. We gathered for the morning-to-early-afternoon session in the board room of the Southeastern California Conference office in Riverside, California. The delightful staff of Southeastern prepared this comfortable space with snacks, water, wireless internet connections, and a delicious lunch at noon.

Our devotional, given by Sandy Roberts, focused our attention on the healing by Jesus of blind Bartemeus in Jericho. From there we continued with reports on the Year of Evangelism in our fields, how each conference was uniquely coping with the financial challenges of 2009, and what particular needs each secretary felt that we could address together.

Joy and comraderie seasoned our hearts as we prayed together for each other and departed to our fields of labor refreshed and refocused on the object of our service--Jesus and His soon return! We are already anticipating our next session together on June 1, hosted by Northern California Conference.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Risk and Reward on Manoa Blvd.

I didn't think of the Honolulu of narrow, tree-lined streets, teeming with cars, bikes, and walkers sharing the same tight space. Not a mile "as the crow flies" from famous Waikiki Beach this densely packed city has all the bustle of any mainland locale. Of course, the 80-degree weather, palm trees, and seemingly endless sandy beaches drew me back quickly to, "Hey! This is Hawaii." Not that I ever saw those beaches during my few days on Oahu but it was pleasant nonetheless to think of being so close.

It took just 24 hours to be self-educated about the vast mission challenge of this beautiful state. The main island of Oahu contains over 900,000 of the 1.2 million inhabitants of Hawaii. Particularly in Honolulu the people are packed into high-rise apartments or, for the fortunate, on small lots with modest-sized homes. Walking down the street you sense what the demographers' data reveals--this is a melting pot of Polynesian, Asian, and Caucasian individuals for whom the teachings of Christianity remain a new frontier. (I took note that the "Teachings of Buddha" were in the hotel's nightstand drawer next to the Gideon Bible.)

Driving from the hotel Sabbath morning to my speaking appointment at the Japanese Seventh-day Adventist Church on Manoa Boulevard I was thinking of the heritage of faith that has grown in what once called "the Hawaii Mission." Seventh-day Adventist missionaries first came to Hawaii from California in 1885 with the first evangelistic meetings held in a 50-foot tent the next year. This effort produced the first company of 9 members followed by the first frame church building rising on the Islands in 1908 at a cost of $1450.

I was greeted warmly by two ladies at the door, signed the guest book, and settled into a seat in the sanctuary. The multicultural nature of this congregation was immediately evident. During the worship hour the small choir sang beautifully, the organ (played by our daughter's former vice-principal from Newbury Park Academy--Hugh Winn) led the congregation in hymns, and the members responded attentively to the sermon (which was concluded at 3 minutes to Noon!)

Known for its outstanding potlucks, what impressed me about the Manoa Japanese Church was the kindness and graciousness of the members to one another as well as visitors. Happy Birthday music filled the newly remodeled fellowship hall (one of those serenaded was a 96 years-young lady who had joined the church just 3 years ago!), groups sat happily together to enjoy the food, and I was treated to a spirited telling of local church history.

The son of the founding pastor shared a story of risk and reward with me. His father had gone to an auction decades ago as the land the church presently sits upon was up for sale. It was only himself (with a realtor) and an elderly Chinese woman who showed up for the auction. The bidding continued to climb until the limit that the church board had given the pastor was reached. Knowing that this special property was meant for his church he took a risk (with the encouragement of the realtor) and kept going up in the bidding. His auction opponent kept up the pace until he was $5000 over the board-set limit. At that moment he approached the Chinese woman and said, "I'm the Pastor of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and we want to have this property for a church. Would you be so kind as to cease bidding?" With little hesitation she agreed. The Pastor's risk brought the reward of the lovely location and beautiful church that we enjoyed for that Sabbath.

This spirit of mission and growth was further expressed on Sunday as I met with the Hawaii Conference Executive Committee. (Attending an official church meeting like this in my Aloha shirt, which is the required attire, was a novel treat.) Elder Ralph Watts III and the Executive Committee successfully created a balanced budget amid tough economic times that continues to feed the ever-increasing evangelistic opportunities of the beautiful State of Hawaii.

As my plane lifted off early Monday morning I said a prayer and sent my silent Aloha and Mahalo to the believers and leaders of Hawaii for their inspiring service to Jesus.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Connecting in Modesto

The Modesto Central congregation in Central California Conference worships in a historically beautiful sanctuary graced by some of the loveliest stained glass windows I’ve seen. As I always do, I soaked in the visuals of the foyer as I awaited entrance into the sanctuary. Literature, bulletin board with many announcements of upcoming events, and a novel Pathfinder goal device for this summer’s Oshkosh Camporee.

As I listened to the stories from members I was impressed by the fact that a new constituent academy facility was built five-years ago debt-free. And most significantly, generous funding was given by the community to support this project. The seven churches of this constituency are blessed to have this campus without debt!

They are also excited about the upcoming Oshkosh Pathfinder Camporee. In the lobby of the church was this clever fund-raising device that showed how their local club was doing in raising money for this exciting event.

There was a good spirit during the worship hour as praise songs mixed with traditional hymns. The organist shared with me that she was a student of Dr. Warren Becker who so many of we Andrews University alumni remember with fondness. Her talents made the worship special.

My message was once again on the importance of our connection with Jesus through His Word. The scriptural selection for my sermon was John 15:1-8. There is a treasure-trove of truth in this passage which I’d like to share with you in a subsequent posting. Jesus was indeed the Master teacher.

Pastor James Scarborough was a gracious host and I thank him for opening his pulpit to me this Sabbath. He shared with me the church’s plans for 3 evangelistic meetings this year as well as a remodeling project. I pray for the Lord’s blessing on these endeavors for 2009.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

National Shepherdess Conference

Jennifer Newton (yes--my lovely spouse!) invited me to accompany her to the North American Division Shepherdess Advisory hosted by Marti Schneider in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Thanks to Southwest Airlines my travel expense was $10.00 round trip. Jennifer enjoyed meetings on Friday and Sabbath with the wives of conference and union presidents as together they discussed the ways to give ongoing support and encouragement to the spouses of our pastors and administrators.

I was kindly accepted into this special gathering for the Sabbath services which included an excellent presentation by Mrs. Lois King, the wife of the president of the Atlantic Union, on the subject of Christ-centered self-esteem.

In the coming year, Jennifer and Audrey Graham will be providing coordination for more Pacific Union-wide awareness, planning, and activities for our pastoral and administrative spouses. After all, these special people are the crucial key to the success that pastors experience in their churches. Pastoral ministry is truly a "team-ministry" with every couple no matter the specific ways in which it is exercised.

White Memorial Hospital

January 14 brought together the members of the Operating Board of the Ellen G. White Memorial Hospital located in the heart of East Los Angeles.

Along with the other board members, I was pleased to be present to honor a pioneer of Adventist hospital work in the Pacific Union--Mr. Frank Duper. Since 1974, Mr. Duper has been a member of this Board as well as serving as President of Adventist Health from 1981 to 1998. It was the passing of an era, really, to see Frank Duper humbly accept the tokens of esteem from the Board as he retired from its service on this day. He shared a heart-felt testimony to the Lord's leading in "The White's" history and left each of us with a sense of the struggles and victories that came through his experience as a praying president.

Our discussions also were framed around the realities written in the January 14, 2009 LA Times which included the following:
  • "Hospitals across California and the country are reeling from the effects of the economic downturn and the troubled financial markets.

  • Two-thirds of hospitals nationwide report experiencing a decline since July (2008) in elective procedures, which tend to be profit centers...Overall admissions also are down at more than a third of hospitals, reversing a long upward trend.

  • With mounting job losses, more people without insurance are going without regular medical care until crises hit. That's adding to emergency room demand. In California, a third of hospitals report experiencing a rise in the number of uninsured patients in emergency rooms since the downturn began."
A related report from the California Hospital Association on January 7, 2009 shows a 73% increase in consumers having difficulty paying their out-of-pocket health care costs, and a 33% increase in uninsured patients visiting hospital emergency rooms.

This is the challenging environment that the church--both in its health care institutions and its local congregations--finds itself as we seek to bring the love and healing of Jesus amid difficult times.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

An Ongoing Dream

Today was the historic day that Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed aloud of at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. In an interview, King was asked how long he thought it would take for America to see an African-American president. He answered, "About 25 years." Well, it took longer. But certainly today brought people from all ethnicities, backgrounds, and political convictions into a united spirit of joy for the ongoing promise of our democracy.

The pairing of the MLK holiday and the inauguration were poignant and powerful. USA Today gave a report this last Monday from the four churches King preached at prior to his death in on April 4, 1968. Included in this report were also excerpts from his last sermons including "The Drum Major Instinct" given at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on February 4, 1968 where he speaks presciently of his own funeral:

"If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don't want a long funeral....And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long...Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Prize--that isn't important...I'd like somebody to mention that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to give his life serving others. I'd like for somebody to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. And I want you to be able to say...that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.

Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won't have any money to leave behind. I won't have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. And that's all I want to say."

The life of Dr. King coupled today with the inauguration of President Obama takes place in the context of trying times for our nation. Herein is a renewed opportunity for all disciples of Jesus to live out the love, justice, and compassionate example of our Lord. Now is the moment to reconsecreate ourselves to exemplify the ideals which both our democracy and our faith espouse.