Friday, March 29, 2013

Devotional: John 18:40

“Give us Barabbas” (The Bible and its Story Taught by One Thousand Picture
Lessons, 1910), edited by Charles F. Horne and Julius A. Bewer (Wikipedia)
“Give us Jesus Barabbus, the murderer and insurrectionist!” cried the Jewish priests and people. How ridiculous does that sound? Only a few weeks earlier, the Sanhedrin had worried about what would become of them if Jesus of Nazareth were allowed to continue His ministry. No one wanted a repeat of what had happen years before: thousands of nationalistic Jews crucified under Publius Quinctilius Varus, the Roman governor of Syria. The high priest Joseph bar Caiaphas had made a strong case to the rest for ridding themselves of Jesus Christ: “It is better that one man should die for the Jewish people than have the whole nation destroyed.” Together, he and his allies sought and found the perfect opportunity to arrest Jesus Christ and convict Him in a show trial. Unfortunately they forgot that the trial with the Roman governor of Judea couldn’t be so well staged. Pilate wanted an accusation relevant to Roman law and supporting evidence. He offered the people multiple opportunities to choose justice. Instead, they demanded the release of a man notorious for the very crimes against the state that they feared would bring about Roman persecution. What would cause such suicide? Only a profound determination, in the face of all the evidence, to reject Jesus of Nazareth as the promised Christ. To them, that was worth risking everything.

This devotional was written as an assignment for Robert T. Davis’ course on “Johannine Literature,” which I am currently auditing at the Southern California School of Evangelism at Buena Park Church of Christ.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Recharging in Monterey, Day 4

Well, I think my battery got fully drained last week. Saturday was day four of Ripon Church of Christ’s 2013 “Recharge: Excellence in Ministry” conference. The morning sessions featured the following: “The Power of Positive Preaching” with Gary Greene, preacher of Brentwood Church of Christ; “Longevity in Ministry” with Steve Lloyd, evangelist with Chino Church of Christ; “Lessons I’ve Learned Over the Years” with Vernon Garretson, minister at Lemoore Church of Christ; and “The Path Forward” with Cliff Sabroe, evangelist with West Visalia Church of Christ. According to my husband they were all good sessions. I played hooky that morning, resting and packing for the long drive home, so I’ll have to wait until the audio recordings become available online.

When the conference was over, we headed out. I like Thai food, so I was looking forward to trying out Baan Thai, but it hadn’t yet opened that morning! So instead we went to the nearby Orient Restaurant, a Chinese/Vietnamese place. I’m not inclined to recommend it. There was a faint smoky odor, even though a sign clearly said “No Smoking.” I ordered the Mongolian beef, which was unusually spruced up with bamboo shoots, mushrooms, red chili peppers, and lots of sauce, besides the usual green onions. Unfortunately, the dish was just spicy; no actual taste or flavor. What a disappointing note to end on.

After a quick meal, we were back on U.S. Highway 101 heading home. Even though Recharge seems a bit too cliquish for newcomers, I did enjoy the lectures and learn a lot this week. I wouldn’t mind attending again in the near future.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Recharging in Monterey, Day 3

Yesterday (Friday) was the third day of Ripon Church of Christ’s 2013 “Recharge: Excellence in Ministry” conference, here in foggy Monterey. Bear Valley Bible Institute instructors Denny Petrillo and Dan Owen finished up their exegeses of Titus and 1 & 2 Kings, respectively. Although I didn’t agree with everything they said, I really enjoyed their classes and appreciate the tools they gave me this week to improve my personal Bible study and any lessons I might give in the future.

The mid-morning sessions also included “Bridging the Cultural Gap” with Jonathan Hinckley, minister of Temple City Church of Christ, and “Creative Teaching Resources for Pre-K & Early Elementary” with Jana Lanning of West Visalia Church of Christ, both of which I’m sure went well. The late morning featured “Personal Evangelism” with James Pfiffner, preacher of North Virginia Street Church of Christ (Reno, NV); “Fiscally Fit” with Bear Valley’s Keith Kasarjian; and “Creative Teaching Resources for Upper Elementary” with Fee Rocha of Rocha Learning Academy and, I presume, Sidney Church of Christ (Sidney, NB). Because I got caught up in something, I ended up missing those sessions, but I’ll probably catch them on audio when that becomes available.

We lunched at Garcia’s Taqueria, which is a little restaurant with an adjoining Mexican market. Following was the finial “Idea Swap,” of which I missed the first few speakers. When I arrived Jovan Payes from Livingston Church of Christ spoke on “Plagiarism: Don’t Take the Chance.” I was impressed that he decided to address this important issue that plagues even churches and preaching schools. However, he didn’t take the time to explain what is and isn’t expected when it comes to attributing sources. I’m concerned that he only encouraged the pendulum to swing the other extreme.

Afterwards, the Recharge organizers – Javon Payes, Cliff Sabroe, Caleb O’Hara, and someone else – paid tribute to Pinky Hawes, a previous organizer who recently passed away. In her memory, they’ve formed the Pinky Hawes Award, to be given to women who’ve been instrumental in the Churches of Christ while still recognizing their “proper place.” The first recipient was Becky Jensen of Angels Camp Church of Christ. A room full of people who didn't clap for their speakers and generally look down on clapping in church burst into applause. I leave you students of social class, religious culture, and gender relations can make whatever you will of this whole incident.

Next came the afternoon program: MinistryGeek Mike Hite returned for a session on “Keywording,” and Wayne Roberts of Parker Church of Christ returned for “Public Speaking 101 Part 2.” I decided to listen to Tyson Kalisz, preacher with Marina Church of Christ, discuss “Effective Small Group Bible Studies.” He mentioned some clear advantages of small groups that churches could take advantage of, recommended some resources to help leaders get started, and make some suggestions on how to tackle problems that often arise. The only thing I remember disagreeing with was his agreement that a group could get started by speaking to a few individuals rather than making an announcement to the entire congregation. That approach might work for large congregations, but in small ones members will find out that they weren’t invited and be offended. This could lead to a lot of trouble.

The final keynote panel addressed “Contemporary Issues” affecting the Churches of Christ today. This was the best panel, both in composition and in the quality of their answers. Denny Petrillo of Bear Valley, Dan Owen of Broadway Church of Christ, and Steve Lloyd, evangelist at Chino Church of Christ, tackled some difficult questions including churches with no elders, coworkers’ anti-religious statements, “disfellowshipping,” and divorce from an abusive spouse. What I liked best is how they addressed the inane belief that situations such as allowing women to serve the Lord’s Supper or translate prayers or including them in business meetings equates to women “having authority.”

Since there were no evening activities planned, we were able to finally get some sightseeing in, but it was rather disappointing. Everything closes early during the tourist off-season. We did get to walk around Monterey State Historic Park (including the grounds surrounding the Pacific House and the Custom House) and the Old Fisherman’s Wharf. The Monterey Symphony Orchestra was sponsoring “Play Me, I’m Yours,” an decorative piano exhibit conceived by artist Luke Jerram. Then we ate at Stammtisch, a German restaurant in back in Seaside before taking a walk on the beach. I ordered the Zigeunerschnitzel, breaded pork with bell pepper sauce, and my husband ordered the Hausplatte, a little of everything. The owners were friendly and really attentive, and the food was great. We totally recommend the place.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Recharging in Monterey, Day 2

This was day two of Ripon Church of Christ’s 2013 Recharge: Excellence in Ministry conference. First off was a return to “Digging Deeper: Titus” with the Bear Valley Bible Institute’s Denny Petrillo. He continued discussing qualifications for elders, giving some goods thoughts on interpreting commands on hospitality, self-discipline, and other issues. He really stressed the importance of having elders free of doubt and willing to refute and silence opposition. Apparently, some elders have neither the Bible knowledge nor the ability to defend doctrine, warranting some attention to these issues. However, Petrillo neglected to address the fact that Christians tend to turn opinions into mandates. This necessitates having leaders who are willing to be critical and open-minded about the possibility that they are wrong in their understanding and interpretation of Scripture. To me, that’s not being “in doubt” but being honest and sensible, something of which more, not less, in needed in church leadership today.

In the second half of the lecture, Petrillo moved on to keyword studies for Titus 2, covering instructions to older men and older women. Some of his comments gave me ideas for further study, while others left me a bit uneasy. For example, he didn’t explain why he required brides to vow to “subject” themselves to their husbands after mentioning that the Greek indicated that a wife’s submission was to be a voluntary choice.

After a break, the sessions included Dan Jensen, preacher for Angels Camp Church of Christ, speaking on “Letting Them Grow,” and Tina Harrison, who I presume is the wife of Pleasant Hill Church of Christ’s Michael Harrison, speaking on “Embracing the Special Needs Family.” I sat in the second part of “Exegesis for Everyone” with Broadway Church of Christ’s Dan Owen. He continued unpacking important themes from 1 & 2 Kings, today looking at God’s name and presence associated with the temple throughout the monarchical history. He showed us how to glean appropriate modern-day applications without venturing off from the real purpose of the text.

The final morning session featured “Leaving Behind a Legacy” with Thom West, minister of Hayward Church of Christ, and “Physically Fit” with Keith Kasarjian, who’s associated with Bear Valley’s extension program. I sat in “Making the Most of the Marks in Your Bible” with the orange-sneakered Tami Roberts from Parker Church of Christ, who I think also teaches at Bear Valley. Using her Inductive Study Bible Mrs. Roberts gave examples of how she’s made the color-coding method work for her personal Bible study.

Jim’s Chinese Restaurant was too cramped – not crowded, but cramped – so we ate instead at the Golden China Restaurant. I liked the taste of their Mongolian beef, but the extremely low ratio of it to the vermicelli noodles made me feel a bit cheated. After lunch, we returned to the conference for a second round of “Idea Swap” presentations. Cliff Sabroe talked about how West Visalia Church of Christ has utilized booths at fairs, festivals, trade shows, and expos to make new contacts. Vice President of University Advancement Philip Goad encouraged people to check out scholarship opportunities at Heritage Christian University. And lastly, Steve Lloyd, evangelist with Chino Church of Christ, introduced Turning Points, a website featuring 5-minute videos to introduce important stories from the Bible. This project really interests me because he mentioned that they’ve incorporated information about the intertestamental period to help put the New Testament in context. I hope it becomes a successful ministry resource.

Then MinistryGeek Mike Hite gave a lecture on “Using Logos Bible Software” and Wayne Roberts, minister of Parker Church of Christ, taught “Public Speaking 101.” Since I was familiar already with both, I attended “Ministry Approaches: Gun Slinger or Peacemaker.” David Hinds, minister of Oceanview Church of Christ (Pacifica, CA), spoke on some unfortunate habits of some preachers: bullying from their pulpit, intentionally offending people, and not creating a welcoming environment for the lost. He offered some guidelines on how they can exercise more self-discipline and learn to compromise on non-essentials in order to successfully reach out to others.

The final session was another keynote panel, this time on “Culture and the Church.” Caleb O’Hara (preacher at Ripon Church of Christ), Tyler Kirkpatrick (associate minister intern with West Visalia Church of Christ), Dan Owen (minister at Broadway Church of Christ), and Wayne Roberts (minister at Parker Church of Christ) made some comments (some good, some not so good) about recognizing our own cultural biases, getting past difference tastes in dress and music styles, and seeking to understand, rather than just observe and judge, other groups.

I was a little disappointed that my question on reaching underrepresented ethnic groups was both edited and poorly answered. Alhambra Church of Christ is a black-Filipino-Hispanic-white congregation in a largely Chinese community; Newland Street Church of Christ is a predominantly-white congregation situated in the substantially Vietnamese Garden Grove. Unlike many other ethnic groups, neither of these have a significant connection with the Churches of Christ here in the United States. It’s extremely difficult to find church members who can cross those cultural barriers, and learning these languages, which are so unlike English and Spanish in many ways, is a daunting task, unrealistic for the average church member. It’s not a simple matter of mailing out tracts in other languages and targeting events to particular demographics when the target demographic can’t or refuses to identify with that of the local congregation, and vice-versa. Those have already been done, and have failed. I believe a radical new approach in needed, and unfortunately the panel never took the opportunity to brainstorm one into existence.

After a long day at the conference, we headed over to Pacific Grove Church of Christ for a Thursday night singing. (Notice my camera shot of the mural behind the stage, a rare sight.) It was a nice opportunity to sing many hymns and songs popular at Newland Street CofC but never sung at Alhambra CofC. Afterwards, we decided not to be adventurous and dined at Chipotle Mexican Grill. If everything goes as planned tomorrow, we’ll finally have an opportunity to do some sightseeing before long.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Recharging in Monterey, Day 1

Being married to a preacher, I’ve discovered, means attending his “business trips.” Yesterday, we spent a few hours on the U.S. Highway 101 with my in-laws and attended a Tuesday night devotional at the Spanish-language Church of Christ on Curtis St. in Salinas. That night we made it to foggy Monterey. Today was the first day of the 2013 Recharge: Excellence in Ministry conference, hosted by Ripon Church of Christ at the Best Western Plus Monterey Beach Resort. I’ve attended a number of academic conferences, gospel meetings, and Bible lectureships, but this event is really unique in that it focuses exclusively on the practical side of ministry (i.e., the “how to” rather than theological or doctrinal content).

This morning I attended the first two sessions of a thorough exegesis of the Epistle to Titus, taught by Denny Petrillo, President of the Bear Valley Bible Institute of Denver. Today he introduced the book and covered chapter one, focusing on qualifications for elders. I didn’t find his notes on the authorship, date, and other details about the book helpful, but his Greek word studies are giving me a whole new appreciation for the book’s content. So many details are easily overlooked when one reads an English translation. For example, he showed how churches often trivialize elder qualifications, checking off “married” and “children are baptized” when the text suggests “not a womanizer” and “children must be dependable,” obviously more stringent conditions. I’m looking forward to hearing what more Petrillo has to say this week.

While Dale Jenkins, evangelist and pulpit minister of Spring Meadows Church of Christ (Spring Hill, TN), spoke on “Leading with Vision” and Zinnie Sabroe of West Visalia Church of Christ spoke on “Enhancing Your Prayer Life,” I attended the first part of “Exegesis for Everyone,” taught by Dan Owen, minister at Broadway Church of Christ (Paducah, KY) and instructor at Bear Valley Bible Institute of Denver. Owen talked about how to study the Bible, using the Books of 1 and 2 Kings as examples. Two serious problems that he warned against were treating the books as comprehensive histories of the Israel and Judah rather than a theological story with one main point (i.e., the decline and fall of the kingdoms due to wicked rulers) and searching for applications unconnected with that main point that the author had no intention of transmitting to his audience. Owen emphasized the need to always consider the overall context of the book – that is, where the story is headed – before actually delving into its study so that we don’t get caught up in irrelevant details.

The last session of the morning featured Mark Johnson, preacher at Olympia Church of Christ (Olympia, WA), on “Forming Congregational Identity,” and Wayne Roberts, minister of Parker Church of Christ (Parker, CO) on how to be “Spiritually Fit” (as opposed to “spiritually fat”). I sat in “Help! I’ve Been Asked to Teach a Class” with Kathy Petrillo, who teaches public speaking at the Bear Valley Bible Institute of Denver. Mrs. Petrillo looked at what tools it takes for lessons to make a bigger impact. Topics included the importance of refining topics, outlining, and meeting the needs of audiences with difference “learning styles.” The talk was all about what it takes to create a successful lesson, but not so much on how to do it. I really wish that this had been made into a two-parter, lecture and workshop, so that we could put Mrs. Petrillo’s suggestions in action.

After a lunch break, spent at Pico de Gallo, a Mexican restaurant with merely “okay” food, we returned for “Idea Swap,” a mini-program of five-Minute PowerPoint presentations on a variety of topics. Kevin Bearly, former Evangelist at Newland Street Church of Christ (Garden Grove, CA) talked about the evangelistic success with men interested in firearms in his overview of the Brothers In Arms ministry. Travis Roberson, evangelist at Columbine Church of Christ (Littleton, CA) talked about the importance of young adult ministries, including guys’ and girls’ nights out for parents. (I liked the pottery workshop idea!). In “‘Little Fish, Big Pond’: A Small Church Adventure,” Wayne Roberts, minister of Parker Church of Christ (Parker, CO), gave advice on how small churches can utilize their advantages rather than always equating “big” with “success.” And finally, Brandon Evans, minister of Delano Church of Christ talked about “Reaching the Lost Through Little League” in a community where a Roman Catholic majority and multiple language barriers make evangelism difficult.

The afternoon session included Keith Hinds, minister of Palomar Church of Christ (San Marcos, CA), on “Being Leaders Like Paul,” and Brandon Evans, minister of Delano Church of Christ, on “Interactive Teaching.” In “Unintentional Evangelism Done Intentionally,” Cliff Sabroe, evangelist at West Visalia Church of Christ, talked about what Christians can do to make the most of everyday encounters with non-Christians, as Jesus had with the Samaritan woman. He stressed the importance of people recognizing us as “Christians” rather than people who were “just friendly.” He also encouraged his audience to venture outside their “comfort zones,” himself speaking on his experience interacting with Nazis, cage fighters, transsexuals, and the homeless, to name a few.

The final session of the day was a Q&A addressing questions on technology issues churches have. The keynote panel members were the hosts of the MinistryGeek podcast (part of The Equip Network): Dale Jenkins, evangelist and pulpit minister of Spring Meadows Church of Christ (Spring Hill, TN), Mike Hite, Vice President of Operations at the Bear Valley Bible Institute of Denver, and Caleb O’Hara, minister with Ripon Church of Christ. They answered questions about light pollution, Bible phone applications, live streaming video to reach elderly shut-ins, and the impact of social media and websites. I was disappointed that they only saw Yelp was a ranking site rather than useful directory people actually can use to find churches. Churches might be losing potential visitors if they don’t make an effort to correct and expand the information that their automatically-generated Yelp pages give out.

In the evening, we joined many other conference attendees at the Pacific Grove Church of Christ’s Wednesday night Bible class. Tomorrow, they’re hosting a singing. Then we ate at a nice, quiet, little Afghan restaurant called Amir’s Grill and Bar. I really recommend it. The beef kabobs are great!