Sunday, August 23, 2009

That was one long trip

The trip began Friday evening about 5 p.m. and I reached my destination 32 hours later. The time since I last laid down in a bed has now reached 49 hours. In the meantime I’ve napped on a very hard and short wooden bench at Seattle, had a very dark (72%) hot chocolate drink, made my first stop ever in Canada, and nearly finished listening to a biography of Samuel de Champlain which revolves around the history of the founding of Quebec.

This was also the first time I flew on JAL. The overall service level seemed noticeably better than ones I’ve experienced from other carriers. The food looked and tasted better. The first meal was a broccoli beef dish. Typically the broccoli is usually found to be quite dead, mushy, and brown, but the one I had this time was still obviously green and still firm. The presentation was considerably better than any I’ve seen. The light meal at the end was a turkey and tomato sandwich with a basil mayonnaise. It was one of the better sandwiches I’ve  had. I think this is the first time I’ve gotten a recipe idea from an airplane meal.

I’m beyond tired and exhausted. I think I’ll be able to sleep though – at least I hope I can.

Friday, August 21, 2009

D-Link DIR-655 “N” Wireless Router

I got this router from Amazon a few weeks ago. It is a vast improvement over the old one in terms of manageability and reliability. Setting it up and replacing the old with this one was a breeze.

I most appreciate its improved reliability. For some reason the old one would choke and I would have to go down to the garage once, twice, and sometimes half a dozen times a day to perform a cold reset (i.e., unplug from wall, wait a few seconds, plug it back in). With this new one, whenever something results in network connectivity loss it appears to automatically reset. I have not had to go down to the garage to do a reset with this new router.

The second thing I appreciate is the better logs that it provides. It rates network events as Informational, Warning, or Critical. It logs more types of events than the old one did.

The third thing is the integration with SecureSpot 2.0 (fee applies). SecureSpot provides additional single-point network management for devices that connect through the router. It provides website URL filtering and network device control that all devices go through. Additionally there is client-based malware and intrusion protection that can be installed on up to three clients (extra fee for additional clients). I was having problems running Microsoft’s Windows Live Family Safety on some of the PCs in our household, so a non-client method of filtering sites is quite welcome.

The final feature I find useful is the ability to enable a Guest Zone. What this does is it enables a second SSID for guests to connect to the Internet without having visibility into the rest of your personal network (though the option is available to route network traffic between the two zones). What this means is that I can enable an unprotected wireless connection during the times we have guests over (SecureSpot and router logs still identify connections from new devices) without having to compromise the rest of the network or having to setup the connection for each guest.

My conclusion: This router exceeded my expectations. Your mileage may vary. At $94.95 (currently at Amazon) it was a worthwhile upgrade.

Mom is gone

My mother passed away early this morning (Alaska time). I’ll be flying over to Tokyo this evening and plan to stay there for about two weeks. I was surprised that I was able to get tickets for under $2,000. The original search turned up prices that were at or above $2,000. I fiddled with the departure dates to try to find something reasonable, and around 2 weeks seemed to be the sweet spot. When I clicked to purchase the tickets though, the site informed it that lower prices had been found. I think it was about $300 lower. I arrive in Seattle around 11 p.m., then leave for Vancouver at 6 a.m. before transferring onto the actual flight to Tokyo for arrival there Sunday afternoon.

In the big picture, I think it was better that Mom passed away so quickly. She didn’t have to experience the worst parts of ALS. I think it is better for those of us left behind to have an early closure rather than one that drags on for years. As my mom said in the last conversation we had over Skype, we are confident that we will meet again when Jesus returns. The next time we meet we will no longer be in bodies decaying from disease, but brand new ones that will never lose health or strength.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Where do I turn for a listening ear?

These last few days have been particularly difficult ones. I’ve written about one of the sources in the last couple posts. The other is that my mom’s life is quickly fading away. She may only have a few hours left. I’m in Petersburg; she’s in Tokyo. There is no way to get from here to there in less than two days. All I can do is sit here and wait.

When church members need to just talk and have someone listen, they go to their pastor. So where is a pastor to go? In my case I turn to the other pastors in town. In particular the two that I feel closest to are the Presbyterian pastor and the Catholic priest. I spent about an hour with the former this morning, and spoke with both over the phone later this evening.

I think this illustrates what I wrote in the previous post about Christian priorities. Genuine Christianity is revealed not by statements of belief, by creeds, by having a bigger and better organization, or a detailed church manual. It’s about positive interactions and relationships between individuals. It’s about getting to know and trust individuals. It’s about holding in common Jesus Christ and letting everything else fall to the periphery. It’s about living what John wrote about in his First Epistle (1 John).

Churches can maybe learn from software development

Way back in the year 2001, a group of software developers saw that the way development was being done was not working well. They came together and agreed upon a set of priorities called the Agile Manifesto that should govern successful software development.

Church leaders observe that most churches are stagnant at best and often in decline. Religion doesn’t seem to appeal to most people. Perhaps churches have prioritized the wrong things…

Perhaps what we need is an Agile Manifesto for churches something like this (with apologies to the Agile Alliance…):

We are uncovering better ways of revealing the true God to the world and helping others to do it. Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over policies and organizations.

Loving (respecting and accepting) one another over doctrine and creeds.

Trusting members’ judgments over detailed job descriptions and artificial boundaries.

Responding to change over following a plan.

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

It’s only about the organization

Got a call from the Conference office regarding Shelley’s baptism. As expected, the response was they could not grant me permission when a pastor nearby could come over.

I would have been okay with that, but they harangued me for baptizing two at camp. I let them know I was more than willing for them to “fire” me from the volunteer leader position, and I even volunteered to take my name off of the rolls, but they wouldn’t have that either. Their repeated response: the church organization has policies in place… yada, yada.

What were we supposed to do when the two campers asked to be baptized? Say no? That you have to be thoroughly instructed in beliefs and doctrines before you can be baptized?

In tonight’s conversation, I got the very strong impression that this Conference and administrators do not care about doing what is right for individual people. My reservations about remaining in this organization have become even stronger.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Sermon: 1 John 3:18-24

(Click HERE for MP3 sermon audio.)

This previous Sabbath’s (August 15) sermon works through 1 John 3:18-24. I found this passage quite difficult. The key seems to be the idea of “confidence” before God and its relationship to keeping Jesus’ commandments and doing what pleases Him. The difficulty of this passage is maintaining salvation solely through grace by faith, yet simultaneously coming to grips with why behavior is important (the age-old faith and works dilemma…).

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Camp Retrospective

It’s been two days since returning from camp. I think my mind and body are still in recovery mode. Rather than a lengthy narrative of everything that happened, I’ll briefly jot down a few thoughts in retrospect.

We got two of the best and brightest directors from Camp Mivoden in Idaho (Upper Columbia Conference). They had no idea what they were getting into nor what kind of help they could expect. They came prepared to basically run the whole thing between the two of them and were pleasantly surprised to discover the breadth of skills and talent in the volunteer staff.

I was glad I had only three boys to look after, and just two after Thursday. They were ages 7 (almost 8) and 8. Overall, the girls outnumbered the boys 2 to 1. That made for a lot of work for the girls’ counselors, but it sure made life easier for most of the boys’ counselors for whom this was a first-time experience.

We were fortunate to have five dry and sunny days out of seven. It would have been miserable having to deal with all the kids and wet weather. The worst of the weather held off until Saturday night and Sunday, after all of the activities were finished.

There were some complaints, but overall the vegetarian meals went over pretty well with the kids. There were always quite a few kids waiting for the announcement to get seconds (and thirds, and fourths…). The kitchen was headed by the assistant from previous years, helped out by another lady from Prince of Wales island who has pervious experience as a professional chef. We also had a sixteen year old help out who has an interest in the culinary profession and had attended culinary camps.

There were no major injuries or sickness that required transport of campers to Wrangell. There were the usual bumps and cuts but nothing more.

There is nothing like camp for the sinful nature to be on full display – the desire for control, the desire to be first, the desire to get even were on full exhibition. (Kids haven’t yet learned the more socially acceptable ways of self-centeredness…) It seemed like the first few days were spent by the kids (particularly the boys) trying to establish the new pecking order, and then the rest of the week fighting to maintain those positions. It took supernatural strength of will and wisdom on the part of the staff to deal with all the incidents in a patient and loving manner. By Sunday most of us were just hanging on praying nothing more would come up to test us.

I taught two sessions of photography each day. I had five in one and four in the other (all girls). About half of each class was interested in really learning about making photographs. The others just wanted to take pictures. For them it was a contest to see how many could be taken in one class period. I’m glad they were all girls since I had about $3,000 of my personal equipment running around in their hands for about 2 hours each day. There were some pretty good photos from each of them. Some I am quite sure were accidents. Others were intentionally done and done quite well.

The spiritual atmosphere, particularly in the evenings, I thought was much better this than last’s. The theme for the week was “Real God, Real Life.” The daily topics were: dealing with distractions, getting unstuck from sin, giving up control, God works in little things, God uses the willing, and trusting in God. I preached a sermon on each of these plus a Sabbath morning one reviewing the whole list.

I didn’t have a choice but to employ the Spirit-led preaching method I’ve been using since the early part of this year. All I had was the topic for the day and a brief outline of the skit in the evening. I spent what free time I had thinking about it and then coming up with several Bible passages and personal experiences that might be relevant to the topic. Often I didn’t know how I would start or what I would say in the sermon until the skit finished and I was walking up to speak. We were surprised (although I supposed we shouldn’t have been) how well many of the skits and the sermon came together.

At the end of the week we had two girls who wanted to begin a new walk with Christ and were baptized into Christian fellowship (vs. into the Adventist denomination). The camp directors couldn’t perform the baptism because as ministers of the Adventist church, they could only baptize into the church and not only that, policies do not allow them to baptize out of their district. Thus I had the privilege of performing their baptisms. The glacial waters were very, very cold! And never having done this, I had a difficult time with the mechanics of it. Shelley, too, wanted to be baptized but no one there could do it because she wanted to join the Adventist church. My personal opinion is that something is dearly wrong when baptism has to be postponed because of policies of human inventions. Rather than waiting until all the ducks come into line sometime in the future, I plan to do something this Sabbath to affirm her desire and decision.

There were a number of others that afterwards expressed desire to make a commitment for Christ. Since camp does not exist to make Adventists, I pointed them to all the fine pastors in the local communities that can help them do what needs to be done to follow through on their decisions.

The “God Talk” through the week even got through to the two campers I had at the end. The youngest one in camp said that he wasn’t sure if God existed before but now he thought God probably did because how could the world exist if there was no God? The other one said to me that all this talk about God had him forgetting his parents’ names. They were first-timers to camp and although the youngest wanted to go home for quite a bit of the week, by the end of the week in spite of all the fighting, the discipline, and the “God talk” they were looking forward to returning next summer.

As for me, serving as counselor is probably never going to be one of my spiritual gifts. It was a good experience but not one I would likely want to repeat. The class teaching and camp pastoring tasks I think I can handle adequately.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Back from camp

Just dropping a short note that I am back from camp and back on the grid. I’ll likely have more to write once I recover a bit from spending a whole week with something like fifty kids, keeping track of three of them, giving seven sermons, and teaching ten hours of photography.