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 http://www.asipacificunion.org/ 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 http://www.onedaychurch.org/home.html 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.