Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A foggy week so far

Last Saturday I made the comment that we hadn't seen much in the way of fog since our arrival in September. It almost seems like Weather was listening and just to either humor or punish me, I don't know which, we've been kind of socked in with fog since Sunday. Although so far, it's nothing of the soupy kind that I know from the Wilamette Valley, or Central California. Now that I've written that, I wonder if Weather is subscribed to this blog's RSS feed and is, as you read, just scheming to send a thick blanket of fog down here soon.

What's awful is that the weather forecast was calling for a dry, sunny week. But I guess everyone in Petersburg can blame me for bringing in the fog. The forecasters are still saying Petersburg is sunny today... A couple of hundred feet above us, sure.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Lately, I've been having real problems falling asleep and staying asleep. I've had troubles for many years now, but in the last couple of weeks it has seemed to get much worse.

It seems that the brain does most of the sorting and thinking at night. The problem is that these subconscious processes don't stay subconscious. All of the things I've been reading, seeing, studying, hearing -- they begin to sort themselves out at night, when it's quiet and dark. When I realize it's going on, I find myself having to engage my thoughts, and I conscisously wander about in my subconscious (if that makes any sense). It's a fascinating experience, but one that doesn't lend itself to promoting sleep. The most annoying thing is that even after I think I've buried the wanderings back down into just the subconscious, just as I feel myself falling asleep, something pops back up and I discover myself engaging my thoughts once more.

If trying to fall asleep while doing that wasn't bad enough, I frequently find myself restless at night, even when I'm asleep, as it seems that my conscious brain is half awake, trying to engage the subconscious. And then I wake up in the middle of the night and stay awake for two or three hours. It's altogether very annoying.

I've tried melatonin in the past, and while it seems to help me (sometimes) with the initial getting to sleep, it doesn't keep me asleep. In fact it seems that when I do awake in the middle of the night, I stay awake even longer.

Does anyone have any suggestions for how to keep my conscious mind from engaging the subconscious at night?

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Bible Reading 2007, Week 5

Moses and Israel in Egypt

This week we are reading Exodus 1-18; Leviticus 1-17; and Psalms 11, 20, and 78.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Sermon, Jan. 27: Which Kingdom?

Click on above title link for audio.

Today's sermon is a study of Judas Iscariot, his ambitions and goals, his desire to help establish and manage the kingdom he thought should come about, and his ultimate failure. I touch upon the lessons and parallels that we can learn and see in our world and lives today.

Friday, January 26, 2007

A memorial service

One more blog post today.

We attended the memorial service of the lady, that I mentioned a few postings back, who suddenly died a couple of weeks ago. It's just amazing that in a very short time we've come to know so many people and one of them happened to be this lady and family. A couple of months ago, there was another woman that had died. At that time we didn't realize that she was a sister of one of our church members until all the services had already passed by.

The service was at the Lighthouse Church, and it was packed past overflow. The pastor had mentioned to some of us earlier in the week that he usually likes holding memorial services, because it is one of the best times for an evangelistic sermon. People who normally wouldn't come to church are there, people in general are more aware of mortality and the meaninglessness of earthly life, and people are more open to hearing about hope. So true to his word, his words today were those of looking towards a future hope, of those still alive coming to Jesus, for us to choose Him as Lord of our lives while there is still time.

January cooking class

We held our first cooking class last evening. We had a total of eleven individuals, including us. There were four ladies from the community present that are not church members.

Earlier on, there seemed to be a possibility of many more coming, but it turned out to be a smaller number. I think that for our first one, this was a good size to discover how things would work out. Deloris was really worried about how she would do, teaching the class. But there was really nothing to be worried about. She did a great job.

The class lasted two hours and the participants were able to try out working with the bread dough and sampling some of the bread and the granola and baked oatmeal that were demonstrated in the class. It seemed to be a hit with the four non-members and they expressed appreciation to us for having held this event. It seems that they would be interested in other types of cooking and health-related classes.

I think that as we begin to regularly hold different health-related events, the community will become more accustomed to them and in turn anticipate them, hopefully leading to increased turnout at these events.
So now it's on to figuring out what we can do in February.

Few images from a cold and clear day

Yesterday was clear and cold. On the way to the church, I stopped to get the image of the frozen slough. After getting back home, I found the Coast Guard vessel in the middle of the water, stopped to repair one of the buoys. The birds in flight was at around the same time. I'm not sure what species they are -- they might be scoters.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Health education

For a little while now, I've been pondering about what our church could feasibly handle in providing the community with tangible evidences of God's grace. General community service type work is handled by the Salvation Army. The Bible Church and the Lutheran Church already have programs that provide for the needs of young children and mothers.

As I've been pondering, it seems that the ponderings usually go in the direction of health education. Tomorrow evening, we are holding a bread and cereal making class. That could be a start for regular classes and seminars on health. Or perhaps something like a Valentine's Day dinner featuring appetizing and good food that is also more healthy than common American dinner fare.

If anyone had told me a year ago, or even six months ago, that I'd be leading out in and planning health-related ministries, I'd have laughed and replied that they were out of their minds. In my mind, at least then, health education is run by health kooks and nuts who are (in my opinion after observing them and listening to them) over-zealous, where to them health issues are black and white, and even have moral overtones. And what average person would want to go to one of those where they come away feeling condemned and given a nearly deified view of what healthy living looks like?

So then the thought slowly developed in my mind: I'm not the perfect ideal example of healthy living. But maybe the imperfection is actually the better example. I like a good (and by good, I don't mean Starbucks) cup of coffee, I don't like my vegetables too raw, I love fish, I enjoy a good steak or roast chicken every now and then, and sometimes I have to satisfy cravings for junk food. Maybe, just maybe, people might be willing to listen because I am more like them -- wanting to do and be better, but not willing or able to change everything -- at least not all at once. And what can we realistically do in a place where it is difficult or nigh impossible to follow some of the practices that are suggested (or is mandated a better term for describing some of the books and lectures)?

With those thoughts, I've begun to formulate plans to hold a one to three-evening seminars on steps that can be taken to move towards living a healthier life. The emphasis is on each person's health journey -- i.e., making progress in each preson's journey towards living a life that God would like us to have -- to provide tangible evidence that health is a grace of God that can be had by each one of us when we choose to bring our habits and behaviors closer in line with God's original plans for us. I think that when a person begins to see tangible evidence from changing just a few things, that person will more likely be inclined to make other changes. At least that's the way it is with me.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

I survived the first evening with kids

I came out of children's choir this evening mostly intact. I ended up with a familiar feeling -- one that I used to get after giving a sermon -- tense shoulders, sore neck, and a back ache -- symptoms of stress. At least it is only a very mild one this time.

We had eight kids, ranging from about four all the way up to the teens. Having to make sure there is something for everyone in such a wide range of ages is to say the least, a challenge. We did some rhythm exercises, talked about and demonstrated how different pitches look and sound different in music, did some follow-the-leader movements to music, and also started to learn one song.

Now that the first session is done and out of the way, I'm critiquing myself. Being probably my harshest critic, I feel like I could have and should have been better prepared. There was one boy who just didn't seem to engage very well, though outside of the instruction period itself, he was certainly interested in sharing things about himself to me. I realize that this being the absolutely first time I've done anything quite like this, and only self-taught from a few videos that I've watched recently on music instruction, I shouldn't expect myself to do everything as smoothly and well as the instructor on the video who's had decades of experience. But even so, there's that tinge of questioning -- Could it have gone better? Did the kids deserve better?

One of the girls certainly got into what happened tonight. As my instructional video said to expect, there are kids who just get into music, and there are ones who don't. One of the reasons for children's choir is to develop people with lifelong appreciation and participation in music. That may not necessarily be singing. It could be in some other aspects of music such as percussion, movement or dance, or other things. The secret is to find ways to engage everone.

Another important point made by the instructional video is to set goals. So what are my goals?

For the kids:
  1. Teach kids that music is fun (have fun!)
  2. Through music, help the kids get to know God
  3. Help the kids to make music a lifelong part of their lives
  4. Help the kids to become proficient enough in reading music

For myself:

  1. Work towards accomplishing above goals
  2. Gain experience in dealing with groups of kids
  3. Learn how to teach music
  4. Learn how to handle energetic young boys (perhaps this should be #1....)

Since I've not had any real experience (except say, with Danny) with active young boys, #4 is going to be a real challenge. My personality tends greatly towards the quiet, sedate, and contemplative, and boys apparently are often on the opposite side of the spectrum.

I can see that this is going to be a huge learning experience for me. It's yet another one of those things that will shove my way outside my tiny, litttle comfort zone and expand my boundaries. It's an experience I get go through only because we are in such a small and closed town. In most any other place, including where we came from, a church would consider starting a children's choir only if the church itself had a sufficient number of children. And it would be an internal ministry to the church family. On the other hand, we started this with no guarantee of attracting kids beyond our two, and not for ourselves, but to provide a place for some of the younger children in town to have a place to sing and learn music.

I'll continue to need all the support I can get. Your words of encouragement and prayers are greatly appreciated.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Sunny day photos

Today happened to be one of the rare, dry and sunny days here. I've learned that the Narrows just outside of our apartment gets the afternoon winter sun about 2 hours prior to sunset before it goes and hides behind the hills about an hour prior. So I went out to capture a few sunny images. It was rather cold though -- around freezing point -- and I discovered that battery life falls off quite dramatically. Fortunately it was about the time I started to think about heading back because I was starting to feel the cold all the way through to my bones.

The duck in flight image was one of the captures that I managed on the low battery after I popped open the battery cover and then put the same battery back in. Doing that sometimes gives me just enough power (fools the camera battery meter) for three or four shots before the camera wises back up and realizes it's been fooled.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Escaping troubles

I received news from our old home that reinforces and builds confidence that we made the right decision to make the move here four months (can you believe that!?) ago, despite the unknowns and uncertainties.

Without going into all the specifics, had we remained, I can see and feel the stress that we would be experiencing. God, in his omniscience, knowing my personality saw fit to remove me from the storms and waves that would have hit me squarely. My personality includes both a golden retriever kind of loyalty as well a pit-bull like tenacity, so that if a huge hole opens up, I feel the need to remain there to fill it until the job is done, even if I'm the only one working, and even when the job seems hopeless.

When we left Portland, there were certainly uncertainties, but things weren't in a red-alert, crisis mode around us. Now it seems like some things down there are. And if I was there, there would be no way we would be making a move here until things settled down -- which could be many more months.

Our original plan was to wait on moving until our house sold... Well, if we had, we would still be there. We would be dealing with various negative emotions. But instead, we are far away, and instead of feeling like treading water, we have a sense that we are starting to make a real difference through our work here.

Now if we could only figure out and see ahead to understand why our house still hasn't sold yet... I believe and trust that God's timing is impeccable, but the waiting is horribly difficult.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

A Concert

The Petersburg Arts Council held a fundraising concert tonight. Musical styles ranged from classical to bluegrass. Okay, so it likely wasn't Carnegie Hall, but there are quite a few talented musicians here.

Elise counted the seats in the auditorium, and estimates that it seats about 300. Since the population here is a bit over 3,000, that means that the auditorium seats nearly 10% of the town. In comparison, Portland (just the city) has a population of probably close to 600,000 and once the entire metro area is included, the population balloons to north of 2 million. One of the largest venues in the area, the Rose Garden arena, seats approximately 20,000, or less than 1% of the total population base. It's just an interesting observation.

Sermon, Jan. 20: Adoption and Rebirth

Click on the above title to get to the sermon audio.

Based on John 1:9-13.

When a person receives Jesus as Savior and Lord of his or her life, everything changes. The individual's standing and relationship with God changes. His or her perspective on life, how the world is viewed, and howhe or she relates to the world and the people in it begins to be transformed.

Bible Reading 2007, Week 4

The reading for next week is
  • Genesis 37-50
  • Proverbs 5-8
  • Song of Solomon

Friday, January 19, 2007

Friday happenings

The last few days have been fairly uneventful. That's one reason why you haven't seen more frequent posts -- I haven't had anything particularly interesting to write about.

Shelley had her sixth fiddle lesson this morning. Her playing is becoming more recognizable, she has a number of songs going well, and she is beginning to figure out the fine art of intonation. String instruments are particularly troublesome in this respect because as you might know, you can place your fingers pretty much anywhere on the strings and make a sound. Even if you have the right fingering, it can sound quite off.

I don't have prefect pitch, but I do have a rather precise relative pitch; i.e., given a starting pitch, I can tell you whether or not another pitch is on or off, even if it's just a tiny little bit. (And yes, that means that out-of-tune and off-pitch notes really aggravate me; it's worse than intentional dissonance.) Was I born with this, or did it come from my early string instrument experience, or is it a combination of both? It's just fascinating for me to ponder this as I think back to my earlier years.

Much of my late morning and afternoon was spent in sermon preparation. I'm giving it the title Adoption and Rebirth, based on John 1:9-13.

I received unexpected sad news this evening. The wife of the family living across the street from the church passed away unexpectedly, perhaps from heart attack. They were the family that came to our Christmas service a month ago. I had just spoken to the husband yesterday afternoon as I was heading back home from the church. Everything was fine then, but in just a little over a day the world has changed for the worse for him. I left a message for the pastor of the church that he usually attends to see how we might coordinate any efforts to assist.

Those of us that are still young and healthy don't think much about our lives ending, but if there is one thing that is guaranteed, it is that there is no guarantee as to our future on this earth. It could be a sudden health problem, a freak accident, or some other unexpected event that could quickly end any of our lives. Would I be living any differently if I knew that my life would end today? Would you? If the answer is yes, then perhaps we should be making those changes today, while we still can.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A few more recent photos

Here are a few more recent photos from Petersburg. The fair weather shot is from Jan 7. The two snow photos were captured this morning.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Moving along

Again, just a few tidbits today...

It looks like Elise will be able to get a temporary RN license while awaiting the remaining paperwork and such to go through for the permanent license. The months-long leg of this particular journey is nearing the end -- the end is in sight.

Today I got the children's choir music that I ordered a couple of weeks ago. With the music, I also ordered a "Director's Resource Kit" binder that contains detailed instructions on activities, musical and spiritual lessons associated with each song, and motions and props that can be used. The first "coming together" and "rehearsal" will occur next Tuesday evening. Looking at the materials, I feel a little more confident now that I'm not biting off more than I can chew.

A number of the Alaska public libraries, including ours, is part of an online audio lending library called ListenAlaska. Many of the books have a waiting list, so I've placed a hold on several of them. I was able to check out a history of Impressionism in Paris that was immediately available. It's a 15 hour book. I really don't know whether or not I'll find it interesting.

Amy has been composing poetry over the last few months. To my untrained, poetry-averse eyes and mind, they seem pretty well done. The library is sponsoring an annual Poet Laureate search, and it looks like Amy will be submitting several of her poems into the search. They may be displayed at the library and read during the spring poetry celebration in April. We don't seriously expect Amy to be named the Laureate, but whatever happens, it would be a good experience for her, and maybe get a little bit of recognition...

Monday, January 15, 2007

A little bit here and there

Tonight, it's a whole slew of miscellaneous updates --

Elise is nearly done with the clinical portion of the RN refresher. She goes in tomorrow for a few more hours, and then it's more paperwork to pass around.

How many of you have cats with a sweet tooth? Our big mongrel, Stripey, feels the need to maintain his rather oblong, rubeneseque figure and tries to sneak away cookies, candies, pies, cakes, frosting, whatever is nice and sweet. That is when he isn't chewing on plastic bags for a fit of bulimia. Anyway, Shelley's old gingerbread house (just the roof now) is still around. It was brought down from atop the refridgerator onto the table, and I caught Stripey savoring the wonderful delights contained thereon.

Last week, while I was away, Petersburg got some bitterly cold weather. Apparently this has moved farther down south. I hear that Oregon is now about 15-20 degrees colder than we are. We're getting lots of rain, washing away much of the snow that had built up last week.

I inquired a bit about the woman mentioned in a recent, previous post. She has a history of problems, so simply giving handouts probably isn't the best answer. I'll need to do more thinking and getting some advice from a few other people here to figure out what to do. Giving up shouldn't be an option.

Listening to Garrison Keillor is part of my job -- at least that's my interpretation of what Dr. David Thomas said last week during one of the sessions. He said it's important for pastors to be exposed to different aspects of current culture, and Garrison Keillor was mentioned specifically by name. So I spent several hours today listening to some of the recent broadcasts that are available on archive.

Real Estate activity in Portland has picked up just slightly. There's been itsy, bitsy, teensy, weensy bit of activity on our house. But obviously nowhere near enough because it still for sale. We could lower the price, but at this point it doesn't seem like that would really do anything. I think we're simply going to have to wait some more.

The days are getting longer. It's no longer dark at 3:30 p.m. There's still twilight at 4:00 p.m. As long as it isn't overcast and raining.

I guess that will do it for now.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Bible Reading 2007, Week 3

I just noticed I hadn't posted week 2 -- that was
  • Genesis 11:10 - 25:8
  • Psalms 61, 62, 66, 67, and 73

For this week the reading is

  • Genesis 25:9 - chapter 36
  • Proverbs 3
  • Psalms 1, 3, and 68-70

Odds and Ends

Have I used the above title already for one of the previous posts? Well, if so, it just goes to show that there's nothing new under the sun (c.f., Eccl. 1).

Last evening, we went to see the movie Eragon. It was the movie of the weekend here in Petersburg. It's also the first movie we've watched here. I know I've previously mentioned how we get one recent movie each weekend (unless the auditorium is being used for some other event). The girls (all three of them) had read the book and wanted to see it.

Do any of you recall watching movies in a high school auditorium? Well, it hasn't changed all that much. The seats are much better -- real, authentic, theater seats. But unlike what one finds inside a cineplex, the atmosphere was -- for lack of a better term -- homey. You're bound to know someone, or many somebodies, in the room. All the kids know pretty much everyone else. So prior to the showing, the place was quite noisy -- lots of conversations, people milling about, walking in and out to get concessions.

The movie itself, well, the reviewers are probably right. It's a case of "ignorance is bliss" (c.f., Eccl. 1 towards the end of the chapter where the Teacher laments that meaninglessness of knowledge). I hadn't read the book, so I had no idea where and how badly the movie deviated from the book. Even then, I thought the whole thing was pretty shallow, dialogue seemed almost contrived and very simple, and the plot not entirely believable. I came away with the impressions that it wasn't very good, but not horrifically bad, and it was sufficiently entertaining. Now for those who were wise and knowledgeable in the ways of Eragon, it might have been like taking in a laxative -- not very good going in, and not very good going... well you know.

This afternoon I went and visited a woman who had written in to It Is Written. I've been trying to visit her since before Christmas, but it was only today that I was finally able to do so.

She is suffering from a number of health issues making it impossible for her to work. She lives on Social Security and lives with her son. There's a friend that comes by to help. With heating and electricity costs skyrocketing, she is finding it very difficult to make ends meet, meaning she often has to do without basic staples. Most of her family cares little for, or is hostile to, spiritual matters.

The skeptical and cynical side of me says that her family really ought to pitch in more to help. Or that maybe she could make some changes to her life in order to free up some cash flow.

And then I'm reminded of the story of the Good Samaritan, and also where Jesus says, "What you do to the least of these... you've done it to Me." And I think of God's grace... God doesn't ask any of us to change before grace is offered. It's because we've received grace that we are able to make any changes.

So it may sound foolish when common sense or conventional wisdom is considered, but I don't think I have a choice -- for whatever reason, God is asking me to help this individual when no one else will. I'll ask around to see if there is any assistance from other places that are available for long-term purposes, but ultimately, it seems God is asking me to be responsible. All I can say is, "Freely I've received, freely I choose to give." And who knows, perhaps I've been called to paint a more accurate picture of Jesus for her family.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Sermon: Light Source; John 1:5-9

In today's sermon (click on title for audio), I discuss John chapter 1, verses 5 through 9 where the Gospel writer John writes to us about the Word that became light through life. It's a fascinating section because John, the writer, throws in his first discussion about John, the Baptist, into the mix. On cursory glance, that seems entirely irrelevant and non-germaine to the topic at hand, but careful examination reveals it to be quite relevant for us today as we are faced with having to choose from many lights that try to beckon to us each day. And this passage can also show us what part we have to play in the grand cosmic narrative between light and darkness.

Evangelism vs. Proselytizing

The difference between evangelism and proselytizing -- what is it exactly? I think this is getting to the root of my discomfort (and perhaps many others) with what is often termed evangelism.

For starters, you might want to visit the dictionary definitions of evangelism and proselytize.

The difference I see is that evangelism is neutral -- I proclaim what I believe and leave it at that. There is no pressure on the listener. I have no motive other than to share what I already have.

Proselytizing is significantly different in that the ultimate motive is to turn (convert) the listeners into my clones, to make them join my organization (denomination). Because of this motive, everything I do is geared to achieve that goal. There is, therefore, unavoidable pressure applied to the listeners. I am allowed to use ethically questionable methods, because the end (conversion to a set of beliefs -- which is falsely equated with salvation) justifies the means.

Does this mean that in evangelism I should never ask for decisions to be made? No, I don't think so. But what I do think is that I shouldn't make blanket appeals. I need to work with each individual, know where they are in their spiritual journeys, seek guidance from the Holy Spirit, and gently pose questions to help each seeker cross the line of faith. I cannot use any pressure, I cannot use any guilt, I cannot use anything even remotely manipulative (or can be considered manipulative by even one person) in evangelism.

In other words, I am highly critical of those asking for decisions during public meetings because by its nature, there will be pressure. It is something that goes against my beliefs of evangelism. It crosses the line into proselytizing.

I am also critical of "evangelism" that does visit people individually, but slowly (or not so slowly) turns the pressure on them to make a decision in favor of a set of beliefs.

The Holy Spirit and the individual who is making the spiritual journey have to lead the way. My job is to observe and to suggest course changes, but never in a way that violates free will.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Photos from the air

Here are a few photos taken during the flights back from Anchorage.

Devil's Thumb from the air

Eastern peaks near Petersburg

Coast near Anchorage

Peaks near Juneau

Shadow inside rainbow

Mountains near Juneau

Reflections on this week

Now that I've had a couple of nights following the meetings in Anchorage, here are a few of my reflective thoughts:

On Soul-Winning

I agree wholeheartedly with the major premise of Bob Folkenberg's ShareHim initiative. What is the major premise? As I understand it, it is that every church member should be active participants in the gospel work. Even when I was at Tualatin, that was my vision of what all churches ought to be.

The misgivings I have are in regards to the processes and methods. Maybe I'm too cynical and skeptical... Maybe I've worked in teams and with projects too many times... And maybe I shouldn't be projecting my experience in software development processes and projects to spiritual processes and projects... But I think my experience in the software world is quite relevant to the spiritual.

I just don't believe in a one-process-fits-all world. I don't believe in (an anti-pattern, using a software development process term) silver bullets. I believe that all processes need to be tailored and customized to the environment and circumstances in which the processes will be applied. So when the call is to take the process and methods that were presented and apply them directly into every context, I hear loud alarm bells ringing inside of me.

So what does this mean for me? I believe I need to firmly resist attempts to push cookie-cutter processes and methods. I need to take the principles and derive tailred processes and methods that have the best chances of success in my local context. It may end up looking very different from what was presented, and I need to make a case showing why this is better.

On Enthusiasm

There were a couple of workers at the meeting, only shortly removed from their conversion experience. I envy the enthusiasm they have. Have my years of growing up and living in the church made me too cynical of some things that go on? Have I become too comfortable? Could I, should I, be doing more?

On Confidence

In these meetings, I was surrounded by most who have had formal theology training, and many who have done post-graduate work at the seminary. I felt wholly inadequate for the work I've chosen to take on.

The comfort I take is that I believe that when God calls, God also equips; that God's strength and grace work best in my weaknesses; that the first generation of the Christian church was built up by mostly those who were unlearned through formal schooling but had been trained by Jesus himself in his school of daily experiences.

So although I have no confidence in myself as to accomplishing the task that I believe God has called me to do, I have confidence that God will not let me down. This is the one and only thing that keeps me going day after day. Whatever natural gifts and abilities I have, when I place them in God's hands, he is able to use them to work out his plan in my life and in the life of others that I touch.

Both right before leaving for the meetings this week, and during it, the work I've been doing has been affirmed by a number of individuals. I'm grateful for these affirmations. They strengthen the tiny faith that I have, and they give me the courage and confidence I need to take the next few steps into the unknown.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Back in Petersburg

It was a relatively uneventful trip back to Petersburg. I rode over to the airport with the pastor from Nome, who was hoping to fly back today. Nome is one of those places where the airport shuts down frequently during bad weather. I think he was supposed to leave last night, but no flights were making it there. In fact, he says that many times, the flight would reach Nome, but is not able to land, so it flies back to Anchorage.

His flight was supposed to leave this morning, but the plane taxied a short distance, then due to some mechanical problem, came right back. He's hoping to make it out tonight. It's nice of the Anchorage airport to provide free public WiFi access.

My flight was delayed about 40 minutes. But once we got on our way, everything was fairly smooth. Going into Juneau and then all the way down to Petersburg, I was able to see snow-capped peaks floating above the clouds. I did take quite a few photos -- I'll find out tonight if any of them are any good.

There must have been a huge tailwind or something from Juneau to Petersburg, because most of the time lost at Anchorage was made up by the time we landed. It feels almost tropical here compared to the sub-zero temperatures I experienced during the earlier part of the week.

Upon my return, I discovered that our front windows now have pseudo-curtains on them.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Strip Malls

There are plenty of them in Anchorage. And after not seeing them for over three months, it doesn't bother me one bit that we don't have them in Petersburg.

Rick and I went to a Thai restaurant for dinner. I got a chicken stir-fry dish -- spicy! And boy, was it ever! In addition to the dried red chili pepper, I think there was a whole jalapeno -- with all the insides and seeds. It's been a while since I've had anything quite so hot. When I make spicy foods at home, I have to make sure it's toned down to where it's noticeable, but not actually hot (to my tongue).

Following that, we again stopped at Coldstone for a bit of ice cream. (Some of the other pastors went over to Coldstone every night that we were here.) This time I tried the standard chocolate ice cream with some raspberries. It was pretty good.

It was on the return to the Conference office that I really noticed all the strip malls, the big-box stores, and the commercialism of urban America. Sure I sometimes miss the convenience, but overall I would rather have the beauty of an idyllic small town than to be overrun by cookie-cutter stores.

Preaching and Coldstone

Monday's seminars was about how churches need to get back into the habit of sowing the
Gospel seeds, nurturing them, and then reaping them. I'm still pondering this topic and
how that applies to our Petersburg environment. The biggest mistake would be to try to
apply the suggested methods and even the suggested principles without making necessary
alternation to bring relevancy to the local context.

Two-thirds of yesterday's seminars was on preaching -- both the ideologies, the
philosophies, and some practical aspects. The presenter, Dr. David Thomas of Walla
Walla, affirmed that preaching should be the most important task of a pastor. And he
gave a number of good reasons why this is so.

In the practical portion, he provided an outline of what ought to be included in the
sermon preparation and delivery process. I found it comforting to see that many of the
things that I've picked up and do already are things that he recommends, perhaps in
slightly different ways. There were also a number of new ideas that I think would be

Following the day's meetings and dinner, a number of us drove out to Coldstone. Yeah,
it's a little ironic that my very first time to Coldstone is in Anchorage, AK during a
sub-zero night! I had a nice, dark-chocolate ice cream with white chocolate chips.

I still have not had a good night's sleep. The pillow is too big, or maybe it's too
soft, or is the room too hot, or maybe not warm enough... Maybe I might finally get a
decent night's sleep tonight.

There really isn't much to write about today's closing session in the morning. Overall I
enjoyed the time spent this week in Anchorage, getting together with other pastors in
Alaska, discovering that many of us share similar issues and struggles in leading
churches in this state.

When I looked up synonyms for the word evangelism, there weren't any good ones, but
plenty of ones with just horrible connotations. And evangelism itself doesn't hold very
good connotations today.

So what would be a better replacement? Is there another word that is better, or perhaps
a phrase? What about the phrase, "Proactive sharing of the Gospel," as a possible

Now what kind of sermon can I work up using Coldstone ice cream...?

Sunday, January 07, 2007

On to Anchorage

The morning started out a tad busy as I still had to pack for my trip to Anchorage. Before leaving, I also wanted to post up a few more flyers for our Bread/Cereal class in 3 weeks. So after packing the suitcase, I took the flyers and briskly walked (also a good way to get some exercise at the start of a week I know will be spent sitting around for much of it) into town. There were some gusty winds and little snow pellets coming down. The way to town was against the wind, so that meant pulling my jacket hood far out in front and looking down to try and get some shelter from the storm. After posting a few more up, I turned back home -- a much more comfortable walk with the wind at my back.

Upon returning, I took my suitcase over to the airport to check myself and the bag in. And then I drove back home to grab some lunch before returning to the airport for the boarding. It's a little different here, as you can tell. The airport, for one thing, is a 5 minute drive -- and heavy traffic means we might encounter a few other vehicles on the roads... And since there are just two daily flights serving a community of 3,000, the airport has no services. In fact, there is no waiting area past the security gate. Once past security, it's straight onto the plane. So if there are bags to be checked, passengers here arrive early, check the bags in, then go back home until boarding time.

For whatever reason, the flight was packed, both to Juneau, and then to Anchorage. I was seated up front to Juneau, and then all the way in the back for the segment to Anchorage.

Approaching Anchorage, I could see the ocean -- filled with ice floes. I'm pretty certain this is the farthest north I've ever been.

Once the plane stopped at the terminal, the back door was opened for the crew to service the beverage carts. And with it came a blast of near-0 degree air. And since I was seated in the very back, that meant it got really cold, very quickly. Those of us in the back were soon seeing vapors from our breathing. Yes, it is colder here. Petersburg is almost tropical compared to Anchorage.

What I found interesting is that because Anchorage is so much farther west, the sunset is nearly an hour after Petersburg's. However, sunrise is past 10 a.m. So it looks like there is about an hour less of daylight at this lattitude than there is in Petersburg this time of year.

Dave Brown from Wrangell was on the same flight, and after we picked up our baggage, we looked around, then at one another, and wondered, who was going to pick us up? Dave called the Conference office and was assured someone would be found to pick us up. After some time, Dan, with whom I will be sharing a room the next few nights, finally found us and took us to the Conference office.

Dan is a Bible worker in Kodiak. He's been there for about nine/ten months now. Prior to Kodiak, he was in New Mexico. A bit of a change, I would think.

For the first time in over 3 months, I was on top of a freeway. And saw Lowe's... And shopping centers... And snow measured by yardsticks.

We had a wonderful dinner, which was followed by some get-to-know-one-another games. There was a game a little like musical chairs, except that the person without a seat had to say something about him/herself and everyone for whom the statement wasn't true had to find a new seat. The one left standing would then have to say something.

There were a couple of games based on Gestures. A rhythm game where the leader would say a category, then everyone else in the circle would have to name something from the category, in time, without skipping a beat.

There were "prizes" which were given out, but not enough for every person to have one. The evening ended with an adaptaion of the white elephant gift exchange game. I did not end up with anything.

The actual meetings begin tomorrow morning.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Project: FAITH HOUSE Manhattan

A new interfaith community experiment, led by an Adventist pastor and logistical support provided through the Adventist church, has just launched in New York City. Click on the title above to go to their web site.

Here is a description of this project taken from the site:

Faith House will seek to bring progressive Jews, Christians, Muslims, and spiritual seekers of no faith to become an interfaith community for the good of the world. We have one world and one God. Nothing is impossible. Who can stop God from teaching us how to live together in community?

We envision a vibrant urban faith community to which all are welcome to bring the treasures of their faith. We believe that in this respectful and disarming environment in which we are all learners as well as teachers, the depth, the beauty, and the truthfulness of faith in God will shine and capture the imagination not only of the cynics looking from the outside, but also the imagination of the cynic within each of us.

God uses people to change the world. No matter where you live on this planet, we need your help at every phase of this journey. Efforts that change the world take time, energy, and unlikely people to come together. Only after people work together and persist over a long period of time, will the tectonic shift happen.

Love is the way. There is no other way. And there are not enough people who really believe this. Let’s support each other any way we can as we learn to live the kind of life that can make this dream a reality.

Today's sermon on John 1:1-4: Foundations

Today's sermon audio is available.

I examine the first four verses of the Gospel of John and see how John begins to build up the proposition that Jesus is the eternally divine God. The application for us today is that unless we are secure in our foundations of what the Bible claims about Jesus, we are inviting deceivers to come in and sweep us off our feet.

Next Sabbath I plan to work through verses 5 through 9.

I hope I get enough time to prepare this coming week, as I will be in Anchorage from Sunday to Thursday attending the AK Conference pastors meetings.

Snow continues to fall on and off. There hasn't been much more accumulation, but if the forecasts are correct, the temps are supposed to dip considerably below freezing over the next several days. And I'll be traveling farther north just in time for the colder weather. Brrr... (which according to the Scrabble Dictionary, is an actual word that can be used in Scrabble -- just thought you'd like to know).

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Fair, then snow

We awoke this morning to fair skies, and nearly a full moon. There was a dusting of snow on the ground. As I was driving Elise over to the hospital, I noticed how the moon might become picturesque if it traveled to just the right location in relation to the landforms.

After returning to the apartment, I was doing some reading and studying, but keeping an eye on the moon. It was right around 8 a.m. when I noticed the moon was goint to set behind Kupreanof Island, so quickly, I grabbed the camera and tripod, and in open sandals (but I did have socks worn), rushed out toward the Narrows. I first took a grab shot just on the sidewalk outside the apartments before heading across the street and over the guardrail.

Here are a couple of moon images, plus an image of the clouds starting to roll in from the west.

Later in the morning, I made my way out on foot to the bank, insurance office, and the church. It was dry, but icy and slippery, when I started out. By the time I had finished my business at the bank, it was starting to snow. By the time I got out of the insurance office, it was snowing hard.

I did more cleaning up of the last Christmas stuff at the church, and then stepped outside to go to the toy store (to purchase some LEGO bricks for this Sabbath's sermon), the Post Office and then back home. By this time, the ground had an inch or so, perhaps more, of snow. And it kept coming down.

On the way back from the Post Office I stopped at the big grocery store to put up a flyer for the bread and cereal cooking class that we will be holding in three weeks. While there, Bob Carter of the Presbyterian Church, bumped into me and asked to take one of the flyers for his church. I was more than happy to have him spread the word.

I walked back from there using a route I had never used before. It is one of the walking paths through the muskeg, going past the Manor, and out to the ballfield. From there I took 8th street back towards the apartment. Altogether, I think I walked around 4 miles today.

Elise went home early today. The nursing director is out of town, and the other nurses there aren't quite sure how Elise is supposed to be legally classified while still in her training hours. So Elise has a couple of unexpected days off this week. She will resume next week after all the right people are back. She called me just as I arrived at the church. If I was driving, I could have gone to pick her up, but as I had walked... Elise didn't have boots nor a coat with her. She purchased a coat at the Salvation Army Thrift Store before walking home.

So taking advantage of this unexpected break, we all went back into the city. Since our auto insurance is up for renewal this month, we purchased a new policy here. And then we went to the library and spent some time there before going to the Salvation Army Thrift Store to look around and pick up some things Deloris had picked out for Shelley and Amy to look over. By this time the snow was thick and heavy. The top of our pickup had 3 or so inches in the hour or two that had passed. Tomorrow looks to be an interesting day.

Mild panic attacks...

I've been a part of a number of children's choirs, string ensembles, bands, and other choirs over the years. However, I've never directed one, let alone start one from scratch. And I've also never led out in any type of children's groups. Let me see... have I had any instruction in elementary education...? Nope. I found my college diploma, and when I looked at it, it still said Computer Science.

So I've been having a bit of anxiety and some mild panic attacks when I think about what I've gotten myself talked into doing...

I suppose it's all the better for God to work his grace -- and I'm going to need a flood of it, really, really soon. And I'm going to need a few more spiritual gifts that I don't yet possess.

If you're planning to visit us in 2007...

You might want to plan it to coincide with the Little Norway Festival to be held during May 17-20. The Chamber of Commerce website has the details on this annual festival.

There's no guarantee skies will be clear and blue like you see on the Chamber site. But I'm sure you'll experience some good Viking fun.

The individual responsible for many years of planning and running the whole show is leaving the city (gettin married, from what I hear), but word is that she'll be back and the new organizers might even get her back into the thick of things.

Findings on longevity

Here's an interesting article from the NY Times that I found through The Oregon Adventist Pastor blog.

The major premise is that how long a person stays in school is a strong determinant, even more than lifestyle and wealth, of a person's longevity. What is it about education that lengthens life? Studies suggest that it is because education teaches people to delay gratification. They are better able to look to the future, plan for it, and wait for it to come.

About halfway through the article (there are 3 pages) Adventists are mentioned, but disputes the traditional perception of diet being the primary reason why Adventists tend to live longer. Rather, it suggests from a study that the tight, cohesive social networks that Adventists have with one another is the major reason behind their longevity. (You know what I'm talking about -- you've gone to a church gathering in a state or country that you're sure you don't have any friends or relatives, but upon arrival you find out that there is someone who knows someone else you know -- or even knows you through some third party.)

Adventists are strong proponents of education. My guess and opinion is that Adventists tend to be better educated than the population at large. Our theology is one that emphasizes delayed gratification. And as studies have shown, we have tight social networks. Our focus on healthier living certainly helps.

Like most things, it seems to me that Adventist longevity is a result of a combination and a balance of many things. As a church and as Christians, we need to emphasize all these aspects as essential to life as God wants us to have, and not get tunnel-visioned on just one aspect.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Christmas is over

Since we did not have a Christmas tree inside the apartment this year, how does a family determine when Christmas is over? Traditionally, it's been the taking down of the tree.

This year, maybe the end is signalled by the deconstruction of the gingerbread house --

I've been cleaning up the Christmas decorations at the church this week. I just realized that I still have to take apart and put away the fibre-optic tree.

New Living Translation, 2nd ed.

The New Living Translation (NLT) is my favorite translation and the one I use primarily. The last few years, I've been using either web-based Bibles, or the one included in a recent QuickVerse library. I've known for a while now that the NLT was revised and is now published as the Second Edition.

What I didn't realize was that many of the phrases and thought interpretations that caused my eyebrows to raise up a bit and say to myself, "Huh...? Does it really say that?" in the first edition have been corrected in the second. I found this out as I was reading the printed version (first ed.) against the QuickVerse library (second ed.)

After discovering how much better the second edition is in removing interpretation bias, I determined that this was a required "upgrade" and ordered the new NLT ("new New...?") from

I recommend to anyone who uses the NLT and is still using a pre-2004 edition to get the new edition (some of the 2007 publications are being labled NLTse). A basic one can be had on sale for less than $10.

A visit to the Manor

Mountain View Manor is the city-run assisted living facility. The Petersburg Christian Ministerial Association is responsible for the Wednesday morning devotionals there. Each of the pastors interested in leading the devotionals rotates through the schedule. It looks like each pastor ends up being scheduled to go there every other month.

Today was my turn. I got to meet Mary, Betty, Pat, Ann, and Lorean (who is a member of my church). We sang some songs, I read a few verses from Ecclesiastes (since that is this week's Bible reading) chapter 3 and commented about how time is a gift and we need to make sure we use this gift wisely by seeking God in all we do. I asked them, since they have many more years of experience in life than I do, what they would advise a young person like me...
  • Love one another
  • Do for others as you would have them do for you
  • Spend time on the things that are important

We sang another song and closed the half-hour period with prayer.

These are wonderful ladies. Though I could tell that their short-term memories have already deteriorated to varying degrees. Long-term memories -- memories of their earlier lives -- they are still strong though.

Ann, I think, felt a particularly strong connection to me. She is half-Japanese, and the rest Swedish and Tlingit (prounounced "Klin-gkit"). Her father came from Osaka as a young man and never left, finding his wife here and building a family. She says there used to be quite a few Japanese in Petersburg, though there really aren't that many left today.

Calling physicians, dentists, vets

If you or anyone you know is a physician, dentist, or veterinarian; wants to practice in a small town; wants a mission experience without going to a foreign country; and doesn't mind the often wet weather, have we got a deal for you!

Petersburg's only vet died last year (and I know at least two kitties that would use the services of a vet). Of the two dentists, one will be retiring shortly (already, appointments have to be made months in advance just to get in). And there is room for another physician to open a practice here (and if the office needs a nurse, Elise might be available...)

Maybe God's calling you... Think about it.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Brothers and Sisters in Christ

One of the things I appreciate most in Petersburg is the community, fellowship, and the brother/sisterhood of Christian believers. We recognize that we have differences, and that's okay. But what transcends our differences and brings us together is that we have a common Father, a common Brother, and we are all led by the same Spirit. Our goal, all of us, is to bring people to Christ so that they can find salvation and freedom through Christ.

Our monthly Ministerial Association meeting reminded me of this once again. Our weekly get-togethers are also reminders that God is much bigger than any of us can even begin to imagine.

Al Solmonson's (Lutheran pastor) Christmas sermon this past Sunday mentions this fellowship that he's found in Petersburg. Al talks about this fellowship about 2/3rd of the way down his sermon.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Welcome, 2007!

In case you slept through it, 2007 has arrived.

We went over to the Herbrandsons yesterday afternoon/evening/early morning to say good-bye to the old year and hello to the new year. We had some dinner, then played some games, while I made an attempt to get rid of some adware that was plaguing a computer.

Getting rid of the adware was the easy part. Earlier in the day, System Restore was used to try to get the computer back to a point where AutoCAD would function again. After that, for one reason or another, AOL's security center user-interface no longer came up. So the computer spent much of the evening and night downloading the security center software again, and installing it. As soon as that was done though, AutoCAD stopped working. Oh, oh... Apparently there are some incompatibilities with the components installed by the security center software and AutoCAD. There probably isn't a solution other than to ditch one or the other. I recommended trying out Windows OneCare instead of AOL's software (which actually is a combination of CA's PestPatrol and McAfee's VirusScan and Firewall). Hopefully that will resolve the current issues.

We took over some inari-sushi over there as our contribution to the dinner. Gerry, in particular was a bit skeptical, as his last experience with sushi was not very positive. But after tasting one of the ones we brought, I'm sure he would have cleaned off the entire plate by himself, if he was allowed to do so.

We got home around 1 a.m. I woke up past 9 a.m. this morning. Since there was a little bit of the sushi rice left from last night, I prepared some eggs and carrots to put into maki-sushi. The tool used to roll the sushi is over at the church, so I made do with a kitchen towel, so the rolls couldn't be rolled as tightly as they should. I guess it really doesn't matter once they get eaten.

Yesterday, in the early afternoon hours, I went over to a couple of homes of members who hadn't made it to church on Sabbath to offer them Communion. I had good visits with them.

We learned that in this city, New Year's fireworks occur on New Year's day. I don't know whether or not it will actually happen today. This month has seen a number of quite windy days. Plus it continues to rain heavily.

Today, no stores are open. In fact, on all major holidays, no stores are open. So we've been having to learn to anticipate and prepare for holidays, to make sure we have all the necessary groceries and supplies. It's not like the big cities where even on Thanksgiving Day or Christmas Day, you can run out and find something open. Or even if not in a large city, you can drive to one if needed. When we discover we are missing something, we have to rely on the graciousness of friends and neighbors -- which may not be a bad thing.