Monday, September 29, 2008

I Hate Being Sick!

Its that time of year ... weather changes ... ragweed ... allergies ... stuffy head ... sore throat ... what I call the creeping crud.

This year it has hit in full force, and I've been fighting headaches, sinus pressure, inability to breathe, runny nose and a racking cough. I've not had more than six hours of sleep in the past two days, and I've left work early the last two days I was scheduled, and I've called in today. I'm sitting in my recliner, with my laptop, watching the 1st Season of Babylon 5 on DVD, and nursing my hurting ribs.

And this happens to me twice a year in Spring and Fall, when the seasons start to change. Ah ... CHOOO !!!

And so it goes!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Suppose you gave an Alpha Course and nobody came?

As the Evangelism Elder at Stodgy Presbyterian, I'm tasked with trying to reach the unchurched in the surrounding community; to teach them about, as Paul said, "Jesus Christ and Him crucified". In order to do that, I've tried a few things, mailed postcards to targeted households, paid newspaper ads, new church sign. Some of those have been effective to a point, it got people in the door, but didn't make them stay.

The other problem is that this church has a lot of pew sitters, but no true disciples. Oh they put a lot of time into church 'functions' but none into church evangelism. They're ready in a flash to assist at Sunday School, but only with the curriculum they're really comfortable with (IE: been in use for over 5 years or more), and only when their kids are in the class.

This is a congregation where most would not understand (or recognize) the Westminster Confession if someone hit them across the skull with it. To say that they could use a refresher course in Christianity would be an understatement.

I've been really impressed with the Alpha Course as a way to bring people to Christ, and as a way to present a refresher course in Christianity to the congregation. I am committed to hold the Alpha course here as a way to give members and non-members alike a way to find out "Is there more to life than this?". I dutifully advertised the course in the church bulletin, on the web, on the church sign. I talked prior to worship letting people know that its a great evening with good food, good talk, good discussions, and good desserts.

I had sign ups from outside the church, and from inside the church. I knew I was going to start out small, but I hoped to have at least 10. Well, I had 6 signed up, and half that showed up today. The good news, is that all of the church members who signed up appeared, and I already knew that one person was not going to be there tonight, but I had hoped that the other 2 sign ups would show; they missed some good food.

While disappointing, it wasn't the biggest disappointment; only three people from this congregation signed up (I don't count the 7 volunteers, including me, who are small group leaders, greeter or the course director).

We have anywhere from 10 to 12 people at adult Sunday School, however the same people are also seen at the Monday afternoon Pastor-led study, a few are also at the Wednesday night small group, and then some of the same faces are at the every-other-Sunday evening group. Out of a purported membership of 260, and a weekly Sunday attendance averaging 92, we see 12 people (give or take) who actually try to learn more about their faith. Of those 12, 2 showed up tonight.

Talk about a frustrating job. You can't have an effective evangelism ministry to the community, when most members can't take the time to become better disciples, and thus evangelists, themselves.

Can you tell I'm very frustrated and very depressed.

And so it goes ....

Thursday, September 18, 2008

First Official Presbytery Meeting

At Stodgy Presbyterian, I'm on the Session. For non-Presbyterians, its a governing board like a Vestry, but with somewhat more autonomy (to a point). The Session is supposed to send a representative to our next level governing body, Plodding Presbytery for its bi-monthly meetings. Well, we haven't had a representative there for a while, and I'll get to why in a few paragraphs.

Today I attended my first presbytery meeting as an Elder-Commissioner from Stodgy Presbyterian. Our minister asked me to drop off his card, as he really does not like to attend these things, I couldn't figure out why. A friend of mine had attended a presbytery meeting at 'Nother Completely different Presbytery and told me that lots of important work went on there, so I looked forward to taking part.

The original docket looked promising, however once the presbytery packet was available there was a lot of consent items, which I can understand, however there is a Presbytery Council that makes a lot of decisions that are later ratified at a regular Presbytery meeting in a consent agenda.

While I understand that it keeps the business of the Presbytery running, it makes for a rather boring meeting. That said, there were a few items that were not on a consent agenda. One was about a church who's Session resigned en-masse. The Presbytery is creating an Administrative Commission to find out what is going on. Based on research I did online, the church is one of those that the Session may be the only members of the church. What's very interesting is the Committee on Preparation for Ministry's (CPM) report. You get a few people who are moving from the 'Inquirer' phase to the 'Candidate' phase, or people who are being examined for ordination. The questions I heard asked were very good, and it shows that the Presbytery takes its mandated requirement very seriously.

Other stuff covered the sale of a few church buildings, or what we're going to do about reviewing and voting on the BOO amendments from the GA this year. This is all good stuff, but it doesn't seem that critical. Evidently, each presbytery does things somewhat different, some meet monthly, some every other month, and some once a quarter. So I guess that explains why you have a council to handle those things that come up between meetings.

What really bothers me however is the lack of age diversity in the presbytery meeting, this in a denomination that prides itself on its diversity. The age of the attending elders is decidedly ... well ... elderly, and majority female. While the average age of the minister-commissioners looks to be well balanced, with a good range of ages, and a closer plurality in gender, although it did seem to me to have a higher male constituent.

Then there's the number of actual elders attending, 113 elders to 130 ministers. There are roughly 140 churchs in this presbytery, but according to the membership report, only 69 churches had elder representatives.

Putting those two items together tells me that you have more ministers for two reasons.

1. Its part of their job description. They are members of Presbytery, not the church to which they are called. They are required to attend the meetings.

2. They don't have to get out of work to do it, in fact, they are paid to go!

Remember I said a few paragraphs ago I'd get to why we haven't had a representative from our Session at Presbytery meetings, one reason is Presbytery meetings are held during the week, during the day. WHY??

No wonder the only elders able to attend are those who don't have to work, or those who are either salaried and can arrange their days off, or those who work shift work and are off that day.

That leaves the majority of elders who cannot attend these meetings; those who are in their prime earning years, and so we get very elderly elders, or no elder-commissioners from many churches. The numbers show that with only 69 churches represented that many of the larger congregations sent the extra elders they are authorized. In one case, they car pooled or 'convoyed' in as I watched the pastor, associate pastors and elders walk in together (about 8 people).

So what's the fix?? Make Presbytery meetings accessible. At 'Nother Completely different Presbytery they at least alternate the meetings between days and evenings, so that working elders can attend at least every other meeting. Or have them on a Saturday!! I realize that Saturday is for some ministers a day off, for others another work day, but on the week of the meeting, another day can be taken off during the week. It may be an inconvenience for some ministers, but it would possibly allow more elders from more churches to attend.

And have meetings in a location that is easy to access!! Not the presbytery camp located in the middle of nowhere that requires an hour to drive to, but somewhere where those who have to take public transit can take a bus to, or else can carpool with another church to. Think about using teleconferencing, you can have two remote sites along with the main site, the remote sites can vote and ask questions as easily as those in the room.

Finally, why do you need to take all day for a meeting that actually took only 4.5 hours ?? Why schedule an hour and a half for lunch, when no one is leaving the location to get lunch? Add in a half hour for worship, and you have 5 hours for the meeting. Having the meeting from 1pm to 6pm would work fine, if you want to leave time in the schedule for networking, add some time in the middle for a half hour coffee and cake time.

A better idea is to have evening meetings!! WHOA ... all the little old ladies won't be able to attend as they don't drive in the dark. I hate to say it, but that may actually revitalize the presbytery when you have some younger participation.

Start off around 3PM for registration and welcome, 4PM for light dinner, 5 to 8/9 for worship & business. This allows people to arrive and sign in before full business begins. Leaving work for 3:30 or 4 is do-able for a lot of people, allowing more elders from more churches.

Some random thoughts, from a new elder-commissioner.

And so it goes.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Ike Strikes!!

You'd think being hundreds of miles away from the Gulf of Mexico, one would not be affected by Hurricanes. Of course, you'd be wrong. While not affected in the same way as those in Texas, Ike brought very gusty winds, which tend to bring down the old trees in this neck of the country.

And of course, these trees manage to find the closest power line to bring down with them. Always interesting in the aftermath. It happened to us when we were living in the St. Louis area, we had a house located in an area where it was us and another house fed by the one transformer.

A storm hurricane's aftermath traveled up the Mississippi and Ohio valleys, and caused a lot of rain, and wind. We had a 40 to 50 foot oak on an edge of a ravine, we believed the roots were undermined by the runoff thus providing a weak spot which the wind took advantage of. The tree came down, hit the power supply wire, which then pulled down the single transformer to large displays of blue light and noise, hilarity then ensued !!

We had water pressure, but no hot water, and no way to get out of the house as the tree also fell across the only way out of this little area.

This time, the tree hit farther away from us, but darkened the houses around us. At least we had a gas water heater this time. Because of the patchwork quilt of development in this area, our section of houses were without power, but as you go down the road, the next block had houses on the right with power, on the left without. And if you looked out my back window, you saw lights on in the houses down hill on the street back there. Look up, and you could see high voltage lights hitting one another with blue flashes every so often. Amazingly the power stayed on over there. We were without for about 22 hours or so, again, not as bad as Texas, but when it hits at dusk, you're searching for a flashlight, and matches to light candles with.

Of course, we had phone service as the cable modem for phone & internet has a built in battery, but that lasted for about an hour, then goodbye phone. Cell phones work, as long as you remembered to charge the battery. There is something to be said for the POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) that the local phone company offers, however, if you had FIOS, you'd be in the same boat as I was, as that modem also needs power.

There are still areas around here that do not yet have power; all the Home Depots and Lowes have long since sold all their generators, many within an hour after opening yesterday. I was seriously thinking about going to get our RV, and hooking up that generator to the fridge and freezer if power was not back on yesterday evening. If it was winter, I'd have gotten it the first day as it has a furnace and this house does not have a fireplace.

I cannot image what those who lived through Katrina, nor those currently surviving Gustav or Ike are going through, the small taste I've seen makes pray all the more for them.

And so it goes ....

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Property ... Property ... Property

Well, the Kirk of the Hills has lost the first round in its battle to keep its property, see the news article here. A tip of the hat to Presbyweb for this update.

And in Beaver-Butler Presbytery, a church that was given a gracious separation, now seems to be in the middle of an issue created by some in the Presbytery who do not believe that the church should have been let go. An appeal was submitted to the Synod of the Trinity against the Administrative Commission and the Presbytery citing 'irregularities' in the way the dismissal was done. Info here.

And so it goes ....

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Just Blog Surfing !

Spending some time reading blogs this evening, came across an entry on the Pulpit Magazine blog talking asking the question Is Divine Election Unfair.

Written by John MacArthur it talks about how many professing Christians today feel that the doctrine of election is unfair and how this objection is based on a human idea of fairness and not a divine understanding of true justice. He then goes on to talk about how any discussion of true justice must set aside human considerations and focus on the nature of God and Divine Justice.

He goes on to say:
What is Divine justice? Simply stated, it is an essential attribute of God whereby He infinitely, perfectly, and independently does exactly what He wants to do when and how He wants to do it. Because He is the standard of justice, by very definition, then whatever He does is inherently just. as part of his conclusion he says To say that election is unfair is not only inaccurate, it fails to recognize the very essence of true fairness. That which is fair, and right, and just is that which God wills to do. Thus, if God wills to choose those whom He would save, it is inherently fair for Him to do so.

Its a very good article which also can be used to show that someone who justifies their position by stating I believe Jesus would do such and such, I know I do, really has no basis for such a supposition, for as MacArthur says as his final conclusion:
We cannot impose our own ideas of fairness onto our understanding of God’s working. Instead, we must go to the Scriptures to see how God Himself, in His perfect righteousness, decides to act.

Monogamy Gene??

While perusing Presbyweb today, I read this post which linked to

Evidently scientists in Sweden have discovered a relationship between monogamy and a certain gene variation, 334 allete. In a study of 552 twins and their mates, men who had the gene variation did not do well on a 'bonding' test, and were likely to be unmarried. Men having 2 copies of the gene variation, were twice as likely to have a disfunctional marriage. Only 15% of men having no gene variation had a marital crisis, while 34% of the men having 2 copies reported a crisis.

Finally, partners of the men without the gene variation reported they were most satisfied with the relationship.

So, what does this mean, is there a monogamy gene? No, as those without the variation are more likely to be monogamous in a secure marriage. As the study authors said:

"The study suggests that two of every five men have this gene variation. The team isn’t sure what the variation does to a man’s behavior, but believes it has to do with their ability to communicate and show compassion. However, Walum stressed that larger studies need to be done to test how the variant affects a human being’s behavior and says other factors such as culture, religion, and family background also shape a man’s marital behavior."

They also say that since this shows a propensity for such behavior, like the genetic variation for alcoholism can alert those to avoid the temptations of bars and liquor stores; men can avoid the situations that would lead them to temptation.

This twin study actually found something that shows that there is a genetic propensity to stray, however, that genetic propensity does not control the person's actions. There was a twin study done a few years ago that did not find anything, whether a gene or gene variation, that could control or give any propensity to another behavior that would violate the chastity clause of the BOO, but that doesn't matter to some who only believe what they experience, rather than the truth of the written Word of God.

And so it goes.