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.