Thursday, September 27, 2007

what matters most

It's hard to avoid the fact that we are teetering on the brink of a recession. Given the plummeting housing market and again escalating oil prices, it seems apparent that we are headed for a bumpy ride into the new year.

About this time each year our church begins planning for its new budget. Effecting our planning is the gloomy financial forecast and a huge increase in our financial responsibilities to "set-in-concrete" items, icluding a large building payment. Through our first ten plus years finances have not been a significant issue but the combination of the current financial climate as well as the new financial obligations we have, has led us to a time of prayerful and careful contemplation.

We are faced with the prospect of cutting back ministry expenditures--there is, ironically, some flexibility here--and we are wrestling with how to do that, and at the same time, be faithful to our calling in Amador County.

I am more familiar with those kinds of issues in our personal finances--times in the past when our set payments have been such a significant part of our budget that we have had to make decisions about discretionary items, including how much we eat out, whether or not we can afford a vacation, how much longer we should wait for buying new clothes, etc. But as I think about those times I remember that we simply made the necessary sacrifices to get through the challneging times. Sometimes that meant cutting back, having a garage sale of things we really did not need or use, and even working a side job.

Whether at church or at home, one thing is certain. In order to meet budgets we must either increase income or cut spending--or, perhaps, a little of both. In the midst of those decisions we must prioritize what matters most. I am preaching Sunday from Philippians 1:12-18 where Paul talks about "what matters most" and "the most important thing". Paul said for him it was that the gospel was preached. At Grace Fellowship, I hope we will affirm our calling to the community and make the necessary sacrifices--giving more and spending less where we can--so that we can continue uninterrupted our ministry during challenging financial times.

I am skipping breakfast this morning. When I meet with the guys it will be just coffee for me...and maybe that saved $5 can be used for something more important. It's a small sacrifice to preserve what matters most.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

practice what you preach

The responsibility of preaching and teaching God's Word is not to be taken lightly. I missed this part of my life while I was on sabbatical but re-entry into this world with all of its preparation and responsbility has been hugely (is that a word?) challenging.

I have chosen the topic of joy following my immersion in the book of Philippians for the last six months. Paul's teaching on this is fortified by his unswerving commitmnet to Christ in unimaginable circumstances, and it is all built around his persuasion, "For me to live is Christ and to die is gain". There is a focus in those words that escapes me as I work through my life. I am struggling to choose joy over the stress and demands of pastoral responsibility. I am sorry if that is too transparent or self-disclosing, but preachers need to be "real" authentic people too.

It is important for me to be able to practice what I preach. I do believe what I say from the pulpit and in the counseling office. I have confidence in the Word of God. God keeps His promises.

And so this morning, as I sit before my computer unfolding another sermon, I am reminded of the credibility of the words I will share again on Sunday. They are words of life--words that work--and I must consicentiously choose to put them into practice.

I choose joy today.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


Our church is sponsoring a "Love and Respect" seminar taught by some alumni of the program in our local church. About thirty couples are participating and I am finding the lecture material helpful, shown on a video prior to small group discussion.

On my return to my office following sabbatical I have been reminded of the continuing need for counseling in marriages that are struggling. An article in the SACRAMENTO BEE today reminded me that less than 50% of marriages will make it to the twenty-five year mark. As I see the young children in many of these marriages--some of them needing counseling because of the abuse and dysfunction to which they have been exposed--my heart is truly grieved. The cycle of divorce and remarriage is undeniable as well as the legions of children who are forever scarred and left in the train of its impact.

When I go to the seminar at our church on Wednesday evenings, I sit in the back and survey our families who have chosen to attend. When I hear the simple truth that "women need love and men need respect", and think how simple that statement is, and consider how that is translated into life, I am encouraged that thirty couples are being handed some great tools to ensure they do not become a part of the sad statistics that tell the tragic story of failed communication.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

a sad story

Back in the office just a few short days. I have already been reminded what a sad world we live in when we live without moral guidelines. When our decisions are only self-serving with no consideration of their impact on others, we are doomed to the ultimate consequences of being alone. When the choices we make fail to take into account the long-term repercussions, we are left to the short-term allurement of feeling "high", with the inevitable residue of "real life".

Someone chooses to lay their ministry aside just for an evening and now their future is clouded with only the certainty of incarceration and hopeful rehabilitation.

Someone decides that the rigors of marriage are too great, and leaves God, husband and children and family aside to escape to her secret place with a new companion.

Someone drives their motorcycle into a cool evening breeze and , unexpectedly, into eternity, when he is broadsided by a negligent driver. A wife and three children are left to grieve.

These are all sad stories--stories that did not have to be--but came to pass because someone in the heat of the moment chose wrongly--carelessly and selfishly.

Don't be a part of your own sad story. Consider your choices and your decisions. And ask God to give you the courage and the insight to choose wisely.

Sunday, September 09, 2007


It is abouit 7:30 a.m. and in 90 minutes I will be back with my church family, assuming the role I had before I left for my sabbatical--the role of pastor. It is a role I relish, and a role I missed while I was gone.

I relish it because God has called me to it. in so doing, He has made me in such a way that I find my greatest joy when I am serving God as He intended for me to do.

It is a role I missed. Separated from our church family and not preaching and teaching each Sunday left an empty place in my heart. I discovered that when I am not doing what God created me for, something is missing. This is not to say that rest and study and rejuvenation were not eseential for me, but the whole experience created a renewed passion for the work God has called me to.

I will be teaching from the book of Philippians for the next several months--the product of several months of study and writing before and during my sabbatical. The title of my series is "Designed for Joy". It is a reaffirmation of my conviction that true joy comes from understanding my relationship to the gospel--what God created me for, what in grace He has done to accomplish His divine purposes in my life, and the joy that comes from responding in obedience to His call.

It begins again this morning for me. It's my first Sunday back and I am full of joy.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Headed home...

It's incredible that my thirteen weeks of sabbatical will be over this week. In some ways it has been a long, long time because I have been separated from my friends, my home and my passion to preach. On the other hand, it seems as if it was just days ago that we told our friends "good-bye" at a church potluck, and then headed out for a wedding I performed in Temecula...and then on to twelve weeks of rest and relaxation, courtesy of our church family at Grace Fellowship.

These have been great days. I have rested, hiked, read, written, sat by the beach, eaten too much, swam in the ocean, visited other churches, journalled, exercised, played with grandchildren, shopped, looked at real estate, and, generally, lived without a watch or a schedule.

Day after tomorrow we are headed home.

I am ready.