Mess of Pottage Blog

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Religious News Blog

I stumbled on Kate Shellnutt’s Believe It Or Not blog at the Houston Chronicle. She’s doing a good job of curating interesting articles, albeit with a Texas emphasis.

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Financial Status Update

We were all surprised (and I expect, very pleased) last month, when we learned that Desert Hills had received a large bequest. The gift was all the more surprising because the giver hadn’t been part of our church, except as the widower of a member who passed away in 2009.

What you may not have realized is that, when we received the gift, our church was already operating in the black!

This September marks the end of my fifth year as your pastor. The first four years of my ministry here were largely dominated by our finances. Each year we spent more than we took in. The economic problems our nation began to experience in 2008 only made things worse.

By this time last year, our reserves had dwindled to about $20 thousand. That sounds like a lot of money—at least to me, it does!—but it was only enough to cover our deficit for about about 12-15 months.

Something had to be done. So we did it.

Your leaders on Session approved a budget with deep and painful cuts, mostly in the area of personnel. We reduced the pastor’s take-home pay by about 10% and my total compensation by about $6,000. We eliminated the part-time office administrator position. We built in an unpaid summer furlough for our music director. These cuts were painful, but they put our budget close to balancing.

To close the gap, our leaders asked each of you, the members of our congregation, to increase your giving by at least a dollar a week. And you’ve done it!

Since I don’t look at individual giving records, I can’t say who was and who wasn’t able to increase their giving, but I do see the totals. Collectively, our congregational giving this year has consistently been more generous than it was last year. During January to August of 2011, we have received about 8% more than we did that same portion of 2010.

The result of this effort—cutting expenses and increased giving—has meant that, for the first time in my five years at Desert Hills, we are now running a modest surplus. We are on track to end the year in the black, even after we fill the music positions we are currently advertising. We will have achieved this without drawing a dime from our reserves, and without reducing our traditional level of support for ministries of compassion through our mission partners.

To achieve our goal, two things still need to happen: first, we need to continue to hold the line on expenses. Second, we are counting on you to continue to give generously. We aren’t asking you to stretch any further—if you can, that’s great; more money’s always welcome—but we are asking you to keep giving at your current level so we finish the year in the black.

I am so grateful that we did not receive this bequest last year, or earlier this year. Instead, God gave us time to embark together on this scary journey of faithful spending and giving. God held back the bequest just long enough for us to see that we already had within us the financial resources to function as a church even in a time of economic hardship.

This fifth year here at Desert Hills has been satisfying to me because we turned the corner on our finances. I want to thank each of you for all your work and sacrifice to make it happen. I especially want to thank our lay leaders, developing our financial plan and refining it along the way.

Now, finally, we can lift our heads up from the ledger books and begin to think and pray and listen together to what God has in store for our church in the years ahead.

(Cross-posted at the Desert Hills Presbyterian Church website.)

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The Catholic Church (Part 1)

I’ve mentioned that “Orthodox” is a word I’d like us Mainline Protestants to reclaim. Another word like that is “Catholic.”

The word “catholic” means “universal” or “entire.” It comes from a Greek word that means “according to the whole.” Unlike “orthodox,” this word actually appears in Scripture, where members of the high priest’s party examine the disciples and order them not to testify about Jesus:

So they called them and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.

The word that eventually became “catholic” is translated here as “at all.” The only place in Scripture where this word occurs is here in Acts 4:18.

If that verse were the only place Christians used the word catholic, it wouldn’t matter. But of course it isn’t. Most of the time, when American Protestants say “catholic” they’re referring to the Roman Catholic Church. This is reasonable, as 95% of “Catholics” are members of the Church of Rome, and only 5% belong to the 22 Eastern Catholic churches.

But at the same time, Protestants assert their own catholicity. Read the rest of this entry »

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Here I Walk

To commemorate its 500th anniversary, Andrew and Sarah Wilson are retracing Martin Luther’s journey from Erfurt, Germany, to Rome. Almost daily (or even several times a day) they post something to their blog Here I Walk. I’m finding it fascinating. Here’s a taste:

The people of the Middle Ages were not fond of mountains. It takes a leisured class with energy to waste and life to spend to appreciate inaccessible rocks where nothing grows, places where it is always cold and snowy and things can fall upon you unawares and smash you. Frequent lightning, the creaks and groans of glaciers, the crashing of falling rock, icy-cold gush ing rivers: these were unnerving to a people who weren’t likely to reach 40 years of age even staying on the farm.

(from “Crossing the Alps with Nothing but a Cloak, Staff, and Sandals,” posted September 25.)

I encourage you to take a look at it. (In the interest of full disclosure, or name-dropping, or both, I should mention I took a class at Princeton where Sarah Wilson was a preceptor (“graduate assistant”), and for a couple of weeks they lived in the same building as we did.)

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Checking Our Heads

Yesterday, I enthused about the PC(USA) website’s makeover, and one of my Facebook friends went to see it. He’s a Southern Baptist, and he wasn’t impressed with this quote on the home page:

Check Our Heads!

The pull quote you see here isn’t quite a quote; if you watch the video you’ll see they “punched it up” a bit. What he actually said was,

“It’s a reasoned faith. I don’t believe we should check our heads at the door when we go to church. That’s one of the reasons I’m a Presbyterian, I guess.”

I sighed when I read that, but the way the page looks, you can hope it’s dynamic content and different visitors will see different quotes. But so far, it appears to be stuck on this one. That’s regrettable.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Public Witness How-To’s

Several local groups of Christians participated in the Grubstakes Parade in Yucca Valley this weekend.

Christians at the Grubstakes Parade
Joshua Springs Christian School Pep Band.

Joshua Springs Calvary Chapel operates a Christian School. They sent their Pep Band. As it went by my position, they were playing the James Bond theme. Very nice.

Christians at the Grubstakes Parade
Yucca Valley Nazarene Church Worship Team

The Nazarene church sent their worship team. The music wasn’t anything I recognized, but it wasn’t obnoxious, and the singer was pleasantly enthusiastic. Another winsome entry.

Then came these people:

Christians at the Grubstakes Parade
Anonymous Kooks

Why are they? I don’t know who these people were, or if they’re associated with a local church, but they should be ashamed of their witness. If this is how they want to present the Good News to people, they should go read how Paul did it (Acts 17:16-23). Or even Jonah (say, Jonah 3:4,5,10; 4:1-2).

Finally, this.

Christians at the Grubstakes Parade
Handing Out Tracts

A guy walked the route passing out tracts. Fine. But look what it says: “Your Parade Guide.” I’m sure that it seemed clever to whoever wrote it — I’ll guide you toward a decision for Christ, which is more important than this parade. But this is worldly cleverness, the kind used to write TV commercials. It’s fundamentally dishonest, because it pulls a bait-and-switch on the reader.

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Catalyst West Coast 2009 (More)

There were a number of great talks over the two days of the Catalyst Conference, but in some ways the first was the best. (For me as a pastor. Another talk was the best for me as a follower of Christ; I’ll write about that in a few days.)

The talk was by Andy Stanley, who spoke about leading a church in uncertainty (e.g., the economy). There was a lot of good advice in his talk, but the best piece of advice was — duh! — you’ll do better in uncertain times if you know what you’re trying to accomplish.

What is your mission?

Our church does have a mission statement, but I doubt if anybody knows what it says. I don’t. Developing one we can all take to heart is something our Session needs to devote some serious time to discussing and praying about.

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Catalyst West Coast 2009

This is the first year that Catalyst has had a west-coast event. I’m glad I went.

Catalyst 2009 West Coast

That’s the worship (or, Presbyterians would say, the “worship music”). The band is Hillsong United, from Australia.

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In Time for Holy Week: Apostasy!

C.S. Lewis somewhere decries ministers who desert their faith but feel they should be left to “carry on” in their office in the church. Here’s a case in point: an Episcopal Muslim:

“Both religions say there’s only one God,” Redding said, “and that God is the same God. It’s very clear we are talking about the same God! …”

(What, I wonder, makes it “very clear” that “we are talking about the same God?” Is it the Bible? The Qur’an? Or simply her wish that it were so?)

“… So I haven’t shifted my allegiance.”

The sad thing is that she probably hasn’t. That would be a shame, if she were just another member of her church. But she was a priest.

A priest for 30 years, yet her faith was such that she could become a Muslim and not shift her allegiance. Thirty years. Lord have mercy.

Now, after only three years of apostasy, Redding has been defrocked. Three years. One for each time the cock crowed.

O make me Thine forever,
and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never
outlive my love to Thee.

O Sacred Head, Now Wounded.

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Morongo Basin Leadership Prayer Breakfast

I’m looking forward to the Leadership Prayer Breakfast on Friday. The speaker is Mark Joseph. All I know about him is what Google tells me. I got this bio from his column at the Huffington Post:

Mark Joseph is a multi-media producer, columnist and author. His books include Pop Goes Religion, Faith, God & Rock ‘n’ Roll , and The Rock & Roll Rebellion. His latest book is Sarah Barracuda: The Rise Of Sarah Palin. His writings have appeared in publications like Billboard Magazine, Beliefnet, Christianity Today, The Jewish Press, Fox, NRO, and others.

The event is at 7:30 a.m. at the Community Center in Joshua Tree. It is sponsored by the Morongo Basin Evangelical Pastor’s Fellowship.

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