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Thanks for visiting our website! Picture of the Month: sharing the word in Pilanqui, Ibarra, Ecuador; a view of part of the crowd, two baptisms. [Click picture to enlarge.]

Preaching in Pilanqui

Ministry is always a team effort--Jan and I have shared the work of ministry and missions for 48+ years! Countless others have encouraged us, supported us, loved us, and prayed for us. In addition to the customary "Brother Bob," I am also known as dad and papaw. My favorite breakfast is huevos fritos, frijoles, and tortillas, with a good hot sauce and a cup of quality coffee! My greatest joy in life is being part of the kingdom; my #1 priority is to advance "kingdom things" and help develop authentic "kingdom people." I seek to serve and share the good news about Jesus everywhere I go, helping people find Jesus and helping people mature in Jesus. One of the greatest blessings of my life is to be loved by countless people around the world!

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Archive for April, 2010

Living Life—One Step at a Time

Friday, April 30th, 2010

It is not easy to move through the developmental stages of life. Early on, we tend to cling to the comforts of the present. This is the reason why children sometimes have to be prodded to move ahead and grow up. During the school years and into adolescence, we often want to run ahead to areas of life for which we are not developmentally ready. Parents say it again and again, “Don’t grow up too fast!” Life is filled with transitions. One of the last, and perhaps most difficult transitions, is the transition from productive, compassionate adulthood into the mature years of life when one’s energy wanes, one’s productivity is altered, and a new set of tasks emerges. Some people never manage to find the new rhythms of life and the fresh purpose of God during the capstone years.

When we develop appropriately in each stage of life and learn the lessons life offers, we become mature, competent people who “act our age”. We do not try to go back to the past and an earlier stage of life; neither do we try to accelerate life and live in the future. We enjoy the life God provides in the present, and gladly commit ourselves to his purpose for us.

One description of the developmental life stages says that the “Mature Years” are valuable for reviewing one’s life, redefining the order and meaning of life, and preserving that wisdom and passing it on to others. The “Mature Years” give the opportunity to reflect and write both from expertise and experience.

My wife and I prefer a different terminology. We are not interested in retiring–we are interested in reinvesting. My goal is to devote my “reinvestment” years to accomplishing those things that God has uniquely equipped me to do.

Please bear with me as I review my life “out loud” in this blog and in web articles. My purpose is to understand more clearly the order and meaning of my life–a life controlled and guided by God. Hopefully, out of my experiences and training will come a few words of wisdom that are worth passing on. I eagerly look forward to the next steps. They may not be giant steps, but hopefully they won’t be baby steps either.

It’s Sunday Again: True Wisdom

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

Today I am preaching from Matthew 6:19-24. This small text from the wisdom of the Sermon on the Mount provides guidance for life–and is about more than our money. This is a text about life.

In preaching and in life, few tasks are more difficult than discerning what matters, what is important, and to what we are called. We are surrounded by the siren songs of multiplied missions, opportunities, numberless challenges, and pressing needs. What shall we do? Where shall we spend our time? The trivia of the urgent often finds actuality impoverishing possibility.
To turn from the trivia of the urgent to the priority of the essential is a first step toward wisdom. In life, there are plenty of opportunities to spend our money, cut an ethical corner, and do our own thing.

Trust and treasures—where we spend our money
Wisdom literature sharpens our focus and defines our priorities. In ministry, I must ask myself, where is my focus–on Jesus or on self? What shall I think about? tomorrow? next Sunday’s sermon? For ministers, this is a special problem, for our tomorrow is often intimately wrapped up in “kingdom things.” My very life is “kingdom things”–at least I can rationalize it so. Can I really be focused on kingdom things if I am not focused on Jesus Christ, the king? Can I really be focused on kingdom things if I am relying upon my own abilities to get my tasks done?
Everyday life presents the same challenge for every one of us. Dependence and trust lets go and lets God. We can only store treasure in heaven when we see the temporary nature of this world and decide that storing up things here is ultimately foolish.

Trust and tactics—law and ethics
How will I get it all done? Ministry is always a place for dependence and a time for trust. Where can I find refuge, focus, direction, priority? Jesus says such are kingdom issues (Mt. 6:33-34). In ministry as in life, our answers are in the kingdom matters, not in the material world.
Merely quoting the verses provides no panacea. The passage demands interpretation, because Jesus responds to our questions with the same words, “Seek first kingdom things.” Can following Jesus really be that demanding? Are priorities really that important? What price are we willing to pay—even to compromising our own ethics? If law and wisdom merge in Jesus’ sermon, we must see that the ethics of the law have not been removed—they have been exalted to a higher place where they are no longer an exterior concern but an interior reality.

Trust and tasks—doing my thing or God’s things?
My task is not to identify your kingdom things. My task is to remind you that all of life is in finding your one thing–“your kingdom things”–and pursuing it. Pursue it according to your talents, abilities, inclinations, personality, preferences, and opportunities. But pursue it trusting in God’s power, not your own. Find your kingdom role; seek God’s power to fulfill that role. To say, “don’t worry about what you cannot do–do what you can do” raises the wrong issue. Today I will seek God’s will and God’s way by God’s power, for today. Tomorrow will take care of itself. That is trust.

Making Announcements

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

Most of the time, there is a lot of room for improvement in the way announcements are done. Announcements are often done poorly down at the church (and in other places!). Announcements, especially at the end of an assembly or meeting, are not the time to say hello and greet people, not the time to wake people up. Announcements are not a time to be cute and call attention to one’s self. Announcements are often merely endured. Announcements are seldom visitor friendly–do not compound the problem with announcements that include “inside jokes”. Many announcements are made that do not need to be made. In some churches, the announcement maker simple reads the bulletin news items to the congregation. In other churches, the announcer may simply repeat the announcements that have already been projected on the screen. Announcements that affect only a handful of those present should be handled in other ways except in emergencies.

Let me try to provide some help if you are assigned the uneviable task of making announcements.

  • What are you trying to say? Make certain you clearly understand the announcement.
  • Who needs to hear it? Does anyone need to hear it?
  • Make the announcement clear.
  • Make it positive.
  • Make it brief, with as few details as possible (only those that are absolutely essential).

Announcements well-done answer the “who, what, when, where and why” questions. Sometimes, an announcement may include the “how”, but generally the five “W” items are enough. Allow me some illustrations.

Who: Brother L. M. Nop will begin
What: a four-week training session for adult teachers
Where: in the small auditorium
When: each Sunday afternoon at 4 pm, beginning May 2
Why: to acquaint teachers with the summer adult curriculum

Who: This congregation will have
What: the summer 2010 Vacation Bible School for ages 4-10, with the theme of “SuperHeroes”
Where: at the church building
When: May 23-26, beginning Sunday evening from 4-6, and Monday through Wednesday morning from 10 to noon
Why: to teach our children and their friends and to make new contacts in the community

Note that in both of these examples, the basic information is communicated. When announcements are allowed to “slide” into admonitions for signups and involvement, the announcement has become something other than an announcement. There may be a place for such admonitions in the church or other meetings, but such are generally more effective if they are “stand alone” items and are done by the person who is responsible for organizing the effort, or by a church leader. In most churches and organizations, the most effective recruiting tool is shoulder-tapping. Those who make “expanded announcements” that encourage involvement should be especially careful to avoiding motivations such as guilt, shame, and dire need.

Ministers and Taxes–Parsonage Allowance

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Earlier this month, another legal challenge was filed which challenges the government’s provision of a “parsonage allowance” for ministers. As ministers (and churches) make plans for the future–both in church budgets and minister’s housing arrangements, this challenge should be watched.
Opening briefs were filed with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in a lawsuit against a centuries-old practice of giving ministers a “parsonage allowance” or tax exemption for their housing.
More details on the initiation of the lawsuit and some of the early questions appears at the website of Pacific Justice: pacificjustice.org.

Ministers and Taxes

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

As promised, here is the link to new article about ministers and taxes.

Now is the time to take appropriate steps to make next year’s tax season less “taxing”. Here is help for both churches and ministers who want a basic understanding of the steps in constructing the minister’s pay package for maximum benefit to both the church and the minister.

Half-Million Dollar Truck

Saturday, April 17th, 2010

With tax day past, it’s time to think about how to make next year’s tax day less taxing, and how to make a little more progress toward retirement. I am working on an article about ministers and taxes, and will either post the article as a blog or note when the article is available. Today I want to talk about the importance of saving. Nothing makes a greater difference in one’s financial situation in one’s later years than the ability and commitment to live on less than one makes. One person observed, “If your outgo exceeds your income, your upkeep will be your downfall.”

A few years ago, a youth minister friend, 24 years old, had just started a new youth ministry position. It was his first ministry job after college graduation. Suddenly, he had more money than he was accustomed to having. He decided that he just had to have new truck. The one he wanted cost only $15000. (I told you this was a few years ago!) He asked me what I thought, and I advised against the purchase, suggesting that his current vehicle was sufficient for a while longer, or that a used vehicle could be a nice upgrade. My friend bought the new truck anyway. When I next saw him, I asked, “How do you like you half-million dollar truck?” “What do you mean?” he responded. I explained to him that the real decision he had made was to have the truck instead of having $500,000 at age 64.

A simple mathematical rule (the Rule of 72) says that when that the interest rate times the number of years equals 72, the result is that the amount doubles. For example, an 8% investment doubles in 9 years, a 6% investment doubles in 12 years. The interest rates were pretty good when my youth minister friend and I were conversing, and my calculations went about like this:
8 yrs–from $15000-30000; 16 years–from $30000-60000; 24 years –from $60000-120000; 32 years–from $120000-240000; 40 years–from $240000-480000.

Such is the power of compounding. When we are young, we have more time than we do money. A young family that forgoes just one new car in the early years, and instead saves the money that would have gone to the new vehicle and payments, takes a major step forward toward retirement funding.

The first eldership I worked with set aside $5/week and told me it was for retirement. They said I could not have it as salary, but that it had to be invested in a retirement plan. They said they would forward it to another eldership, but they would not give it directly to me. The retirement plan was established, and they put in $5/week during the first year I worked with them, and $10/year the second year. (Incidentally, those amounts were about 3-7% of my salary in those years.) After that, another church put in $10/week for two years. The next church I worked with put in $15/week for four years. When my wife and I purchased our own home, the pay package was restructured and the contributions to my little retirement plan stopped. We have never put in more money, and we have kept the funds separate. You can calculate the amount invested (about $5000), and you can make a close guess at the current balance in that little account after almost 35 years, using the Rule of 72 outlined above.

My wife and I are now at a place in our lives when we can clearly see the power of compounding from the results perspective. We are retiring this year, and we are grateful for the few dollars that we were able to save early on. We are grateful to that eldership that pointed us down the right path. My mother taught us to save at least 10%. We have done that, but could have done more. Through the years, Jan has worked outside the home from time to time. We have generally saved all of her earnings. Our regret now is that we did not save even more, and allow the value of time to multiply our savings.

The most important thing is not how much you make, but how much you keep.

Moving Forward After Easter: Building on the Right Foundations

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

On the first Sunday of this month (Easter), most Christian churches had their biggest Sunday attendance of the year. No Sunday of the church year surpasses Easter in total attendance. Surveys show that more Christians are in church on Easter than any other Sunday of the year. Not only do most of the church members show up on the same day (!), multitudes of visitors fill our church buildings! Our spirits and hopes are buoyed by what we saw and experienced. We pray that the interest shown is a harbinger of good things to come.

How does the church build on the Easter experience? What can we do to keep the momentum? A helpful understanding emerges in a study of the question posed by the Psalmist: “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (11:3) This question is easily misunderstood apart from its context. David affirms his dependence on and confidence in God, and urges others to find refuge in God. Refuge in God does not depend on absence from this world—it is not necessary to flee like a bird to the secure places. Security and refuge are possible even in the midst of a troubled, threatening world. The forces around us, bent on assaulting the upright in heart, seek to overwhelm us. One may ask with good reason, “What can the righteous do?” When the evil in our world surges and we can no longer depend upon a moral world order, what shall we do? When evil overcomes good, where shall we turn?

Never fear—God is yet in his holy temple, God is on the throne. The challenge that faces the church is to remember and constantly proclaim that God is on the throne! God is in control. Success down at the church house is not built on numbers, but on God. The church must be built on the foundation of God. The world will do its best to destroy the foundations. The church that fails to recognize the need to build on the foundation of the nature of God and his work and presence in this world will not grow in ways that please God.

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