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.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Giving Light to Our World

"Elder Newton has something he'd like to share with us, " was how Nelson Ernst, Director of G.L.O.W. for Central California Conference, introduced me to a group of over 400 attendees at "Shine out of Darkness." G.L.O.W. abbreviates "Giving Light to our World"-- the initiative to motivate our membership to place Adventist literature in the hands of searching souls. It was Sunday morning, January 11, at 10:00 a.m. and some surprises awaited me.

My testimony began with Jeremiah 29:10 which says, "I know my plans for you....." The Newton family knows that literature ministry brings people to the Lord. When I was just 8 years old my mother filled out a response card in our doctor's office for information about "The Bible Story" by Arthur Maxwell. As dissatisfied Presbyterians, my parents were looking for a faith foundation for their two boys and the sample volume sitting on the table caught my mother's interest. Not too long afterwards a nice man in a suit rang our doorbell and following his "canvass" sold my parents the 10-volume Bible Story series as well as Ellen White's Conflict of the Ages series. As he was closing his time with these new customers, this faithful colporteur asked, "Would you be interested in learning more about the Bible?" Answering in the affirmative, he promised that someone would be contacting them shortly. And sure enough, Pastor Maurice Peterson of the Orange, California church followed up on this interest with weekly Bible studies that led to my parent's baptism 6 months later.

"I would not be here today without the faithful ministry of that literature evangelist," I informed my listeners. It was faith-affirming to me to hear "amens" from the audience of over 400 people.

What's amazing is that last year there were about 40 people in attendance at the same meeting at Fresno Adventist Academy. Larry Carter, our Union's literature director, confessed shock and awe at the change one year made in the attendance. Therefore, I made it a point to mingle with audience members and leaders of the event to ascertain why the change in a mere 12 months.

My conclusion was two-fold: 1) The mission of G.L.O.W. is to be in the local churches of Central California and teach as well as inspire members that giving out free literature to people is something that anyone can do. And, they've been doing just that! The result is people ready to come together. 2) The Holy Spirit has worked in people's hearts in 2008 as the events around us have unfolded. God is bringing a unity among willing people for this simple witnessing method and the fruits showed up. Nelson confessed to me that there was no grand marketing scheme. My thought was, "Holy Spirit marketing." A scattering of members from Hawaii, Northern, Southern, Southeastern, and Arizona Conferences were also represented in the crowd demonstrating that the mission of G.L.O.W. is spreading. And why not! Sharing literature is an easy, low-confrontation, but high-impact ministry that any person can do.

I enjoyed praying with two ladies from declining churches who are inspired to help reach their community with the truth and see their congregations grow. Like me, they were inspired by Wilmar Hirle, General Conference Associate Publishing Director, as he showed slides from around the world of people sharing literature from cabs, in parks, and deployed in buses to blanket whole countries like Brazil. As he and I visited briefly after his talk, he expressed admiration for the uniqueness of what was happening right in our back yard here in the Pacific Union.

Everyone enjoyed the free lunch of burritos, fruit, and water. (They ordered 800 so nobody went hungry!) And, I came away with more than just a t-shirt. Driving up Highway 99 I was thinking, "It's time to reload my literature supply for the next trip."

Saturday, January 10, 2009

What Makes A Church?

Today I witnessed the practical manifestation of Peter's words, "...you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 2:5).

At the Sparks, Nevada, Seventh-day Adventist Church you'll meet Elder Kingsley Palmer who serves, with his wife Lorraine, as the lead pastor of a vibrant, multicultural congregation in the greater-Reno area of Northern Nevada. But he'll be the first to tell you that there is no church without the faithful service of scores of volunteers.

This Sabbath was officer dedication day at Sparks and it was my privilege to join Pastor Palmer in the service. His theme was being the "hands of Christ" with an emphasis on the kinds of hands one can be in the various roles of elder, clerk, Sabbath school teacher, children's ministry, etc.

We also laid the hands of ordination on two local elders. As I joined in the prayer of dedication it reminded me of the the thousands of other elders across our world church as well as across the years who have felt the touch of hands pressed gently upon their shoulders. This simple act triggered the memory of my own father's ordination in the Orange, California, church one Sabbath in the 1960's as well as my own ordination as a minister in 1988. That moment is a living connection to Peter's words--we're now part of the framework of the "spiritual house" that God is constructing in each generation.

My message for the worship hour was taken from John 15:1-9 where we're reminded that connection with Jesus is the sole criteria for success in both life and ministry. And as Jennifer and I shook hands with the congregation at the door we touched the "living stones" that God is cementing together with the mortar of heavenly love to accomplish His work in Spark, Nevada-- just one of the thousands of places where God is at work in the Vineyard of the Pacific Union Conference.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

90% of Success is Showing Up

One of the blessings of working in the Pacific Union Conference is the variety of ministry enterprises in this territory. The core of my responsibility as Executive Secretary--aside from overseeing the statistical and record-keeping function of our organization-- is "ministry of presence." That means travel, lots of travel! In fact, more travel than I've ever done in my life. It figures that for 2009 I'll be "on the road" about 80% of the work-days of the year.

Where does that take me? To churches, gatherings in our 7 conference fields, North American Division meetings in Silver Spring, MD, Amazing Facts Board, A.S.I. Board, the Board of Trustees for Pacific Union College and La Sierra University, the Board of White Memorial Hospital, and our own Pacific Union Conference Executive Committee and in-house committees. Whew…that seems like a long list.

People ask me sometimes, “How can attending meetings be ministry?" Well, from 17 years of local church pastoral work I learned the truth of Woody Allen’s observation about leadership—“90% of success is showing up.” Ministry of presence in the lives of people was the key to success in pastoral ministry then and it remains so for me today.

My role as Secretary grants me the potential to plunge more deeply “into the weeds” of the great things that God is up to as He works through the hundreds of committed people I interact with. The stories, pictures, and some of the challenges over the course of our time together are what Journeys in Ministry is all about.

Friday, January 2, 2009

2009 Journeys

Happy New Year!

Beginnings in the calender can trigger reflections upon life and work. For myself, I'm starting this new year of ministry also completing 9 months in my work as Executive Secretary for the Pacific Union. (Kind of fitting that these two time-markers coincide.)

Why am I writing this blog? Not because I'm some ministry genius or because you can learn the secrets of life from me. No, my aims are pretty modest, I suppose.

If Journey in Ministry can do two things then I'll be satisfied at the close of 2009. First, it may introduce you, my blog-reading-friend, to Seventh-day Adventist ministry around the Pacific Union that you probably don't have time to experience. Along the way it may posit some implications to the question, "So what do those Union guys do, anyway?" (Although this is really not going to devolve into an apologetic for Unions--that's above my pay-grade!)

The second purpose of Journeys in Ministry is really just personal reflection. I turned 51 on December 4 and it's become more significant for me to analyze how I'm using the time God has given me on this earth. In the clatter of daily living the "big picture" can get lost. This is an attempt to road map my life. To check in on the more existential stuffing of living like purpose, meaning, and significance.

I hope your journey for 2009 holds new insights. Maybe sharing a few from my world may encourage you in yours.