Thursday, January 31, 2008

It's a Tough Job Being a Pastor . . .

But someone has to do it!

I spent last Thursday at my wife's school, enjoying a sledding party with her students. I wasn't the only pastor who was there having fun, though. Pastor Cliff Gleason - the pastor of the church where my wife teaches - was spotted putting in a hard day's work, too.

I followed up my sledding day on Thursday by chaperoning my church's school kids on a ski mountain the following day. As my brother-in-law - who is doing his medical residency - would say, "Boy, I wish I could drive around all day and see my friends."

Raise your hand if you want my job?

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

New Website

This month, my dad and I started a new magazine called New England Pastor. It is a bi-monthly magazine for all the Seventh-day Adventist pastors who live in New England. Our hope is to encourage each pastor by uplifting the message of Righteousness by Faith.

Just today, I started a website to go along with the magazine, which you can find at There, you can read articles from each issue, share comments on what you read, and get a better idea about who is who in the magazine. For the first issue, people such as Richard M. Davidson and Frank Tochterman have contributed. I'm sure you'll enjoy.

In addition, you can also download sermons. I am now going to start posting my sermons on the site (as long as the Andrews server allows me to keep storing my sermons on their site - which probably won't be for long), so you can check them out on a weekly basis. You can access my sermons by clicking here.

I would encourage everyone to surf on over to the website and have a look around. Please leave feedback as well.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Repenting for Someone Else's Sins?

Thought I would just pass along a fascinating article about Pacific Union College that was posted over at Spectrum. They have documented a story in which certain individuals have repented for sins that other people committed. In theological jargon, this would be called "corporate solidarity" or "corporate repentance" and it makes a lot of people uncomfortable.

But it is a lesson we should all learn, especially if we ever want to get out of this mess that we, as a church, are in.

"And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write . . . 'As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent' " (Rev 3:14, 19).

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Old "Bait and Switch"

I have been told time and time again that it is wrong and unloving to befriend someone with the ulterior motive of bringing them to Christ. So let me get this straight: it is unloving to care about someone's eternal salvation and well-being?

Admittedly, some of our "bait and switch" tactics are a little problematic. Too many times we view people as another number on the headboards of our baptismal records.

But imagine the paralytic's surprise when his four buddies brought him to Jesus to be healed, and Christ replied, "Son, your sins are forgiven you." He could have easily protested, "Wait a minute: I came here to be able to walk again, and instead You talk to me about eternal life!" The man didn't cry "foul" though, and it reminds me that Jesus always had "ulterior motives" when it came to issues of healing, justice, and societal reform.

After all, what could be more loving than to tell someone about the Father's heart of love?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

If You Post It, They Will Come

At 9:22 this past Friday morning, I posted my Blog about my frustration with the Irving Oil Corporation. By the following Monday morning (yesterday), I received a phone call from Matt from Irving, saying he had read by Blog and that they were "cleaning" my account, thus clearing me of the $1000 that I allegedly owed them.

Talk about fast service!

Never before have I seen the power of a Blog in such an personal way. When I asked Matt how he found my Blog, he said that his boss handed him a file with all of my information, including my post.

Many thanks must go to Irving Oil for their actions. Such prompt service must be commended. And, whoever came across my Blog from the company, thank you for bringing it to the attention of those who have the power to rectify the problem.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Give Me Irving Oil in My Lamp? Please!

I don't usually post on subjects that are not directly related to theology or church affairs, but I can't help but post on this. Maybe a moral lesson can be gleaned from this little story, but it will have to come as result of the reader's illumination, and nothing that I might write. I just need an outlet to vent my frustrations.

It pains me to say it, but the Irving Oil Company is really testing my patience. The main reason it pains me to say this is because the company hails from New Brunswick, Canada - the birthplace of my father and the home to many nice people. For the most part, people from Eastern Canada are very nice. I know this from first-hand experience because my family has a summer home in Nova Scotia and we interact with people from this part of the continent regularly.

But this is too much. Let me explain.

About a month ago now, I had a message on my voice mail from a pleasant lady named Sandy who was from Irving Oil. She informed me that approximately 60 gallons of oil had mistakenly been put into my home oil tank, and they could either give me the oil at a highly discounted rate, or take the oil out altogether. They preferred the former option, so they were willing to work with me on the expense.

A little confused, I returned the phone call the next day and talked with someone else, whose name slips me. Apparently, what supposedly happened is Irving was set up to automatically fill my landlord's tank (he has a separate tank for the rest of the building, which is office space) and they had mistakenly put some of the oil into my tank. They offered me the oil at about a third the price of what it normally would have cost, and deferred the payments until February. Gleeful over my fortune of getting oil for a much lower price, I agreed to sign up for the deal. I was so excited, in fact, that I called up my wife and told her the good news.

The problem is, I decided to go down to check my tank after I hung up the phone and I discovered that my landlord's tank was full, and my tank was empty. Hadn't I just received a bunch of oil a few days before (granted, 60 gallons is not a ton of oil, but it certainly wouldn't have been spent that quickly)? Once again confused, I called Irving Oil back and informed them that I hadn't, in fact, received the oil.

Of course, they were not sure what to do. When I told them that I thought my landlord had received it, they told me that they would call him to seek permission to put the charge back on his account. At this, I hung up the phone and assumed that everything would be resolved.

Two or three weeks later, I saw my landlord and asked him about the situation. Apparently, what had happened is that he received two invoices on the same day, indicating that his tank had received oil two separate times about 20 minutes apart. He was confused as to why this would have happened and the assumption was that they had placed the oil in my tank the second time. But why would the oil be placed in two separate tanks - especially since I never ordered the oil, and I was not set up for automatic fill-up - 20 minutes apart?

When I talked with someone from Irving, they told me that this happens fairly frequently. Apparently the meter runs out on the truck, and the driver has to return to the truck and restart the meter, only to return to the fill-pipe to resume filling. But this still wouldn't answer the question of why I would receive oil when I never ordered it. The person who I talked to on the phone assured me that they would straighten it out with my landlord. It would be resolved.

The problem is, my landlord had the same questions. Why would there be a 20 minute interval between the time he got the first oil, and when he got the second? It wasn't making sense to him.

Thinking that things were being taken care of, I got another message from Irving last week that totally threw me for a loop and, quite frankly, is making me a little batty. They informed me that they had talked with my landlord and, not only was that oil in December really put into my tank, but they had also supposedly delivered oil to my tank back in October and November and I owed them over a thousand dollars for oil.

My landlord was around at the time, so I immediately marched over to him to ask him what the deal was. He was sure that he didn't get the oil, and he had talked with Irving for about an hour the night before. They concluded that I had received that oil all along because, based on the average home our size, I should have been using a certain amount of oil. He told me, though, that if I didn't think I got the oil, then I should fight it. Ultimately, he said, it is their fault for being so disorganized.

The truth is, I never received any notification that I received any oil, and when I checked my tank the few times that I did, it was rather low. There is no way I could have received oil at the times they said I did. No way!

I talked with my mother, who lives in a much larger home than me, and she said that they have gone through two tanks of oil since September - about 500 gallons. During that time, I have allegedly gone through 375 gallons of oil (not counting the oil that was already in the tank when we moved into the place). This, despite the fact that I live in about an apartment that is about 600-square feet, and my parents' home is well over 1500-square feet. This isn't even to mention the fact that I was in the Northwest for all of September (which was a warm month, anyway), and the first week or so of October. Granted, my wife was still here, but she didn't even turn the heat on once. Plus, we were gone for about a week, total, over the Christmas/New Year's holiday.

Where did all that oil go?

So I called up Irving once again and talked to Aaron, who assured me that he would "look into it." He said that he would call my landlord (something that a previous person told me they were not allowed to do) and try to resolve the problem. Ultimately, of course, someone has to pay for the oil, he said, despite the fact that the Irving Oil company seems to have a clear problem with figuring out just exactly what they're doing. Feeling confident that the problem would finally be resolved, I get a letter in the mail today, with my overdue balance and all the invoices from the delivery.

Why - if these invoices are from the October, November and December deliveries - am I finally receiving them now? Do they think that this is proof that they did, in fact, deliver the oil to me at those dates? Why stop in October? Just write me an invoice for June 12, 2001 and tell me that this is proof that they delivered oil to me back then!

What is the most bizarre twist of all, though, is that on the top of the bill, there is a $7.55 interest charge for oil that I never knew I had nor was ever billed for. They never gave me a chance to pay the bill to begin with, so how can I be charged interest? Obviously, it's only $7.55 - no big deal - but the principle of the matter is what drives me crazy.

So, once again, I called up Irving Oil and talked with Donna this time - a lady who seems to be a step above the Aarons and Sandys of their company. She seemed to be a little more informed and explained that the oil had, in fact, been delivered to me because they had an invoice for it. And what must have happened is that my landlord had been getting automatic delivery for my tank. On his account, she said, is his home address (in another town) and my address. Thus, they never put a stop to delivery to my apartment, and they had mistakenly billed him for filling up my tank.

The problem is, when Donna read the instructions for my address, they read, "Right fill-pipe." My tank is the left fill-pipe and, of course he would still want automatic delivery to my address because he is still responsible for filling up the tank for the rest of the building. "Oh," she responded, "I see." She then went on to explain that there must have been a mistake, and they must have filled both our tanks whenever they delivered it to his tank.

Well how do I know that? Am I supposed to take their word for it, three months after the fact?

She assured me that she would look into it, though. She would talk with the drivers - as if they will be able to remember where, exactly, they put the oil, three months after they delivered it - get the original tickets from the deliveries, and resolve the problem.

I am very confident that this will be resolved.

Or not.

Donna, as nice as she is, is now the fourth or fifth person I have talked with about the situation. They have all said, "Don't worry, Mr. Brace, we will look into the problem. We'll figure out what the problem is and we'll get back to you." I'm still waiting for a call from Aaron, Sandy, and all the other fine citizens of Canada to tell me what has happened. Excuse me if I am not very optimistic that Donna will solve the problem, either. The next communication I will probably have with Irving is another bill in the mail, informing me that I have another $7.55 in interest that needs to be paid for oil I am not sure I ever got.

Before I close, let me share a few things. First, there is no dispute between my landlord and me. We are both fairly confident that we never received the oil that was allegedly delivered to us.

Second, everyone at Irving Oil has been extremely nice, perhaps too nice. They have been polite and courteous at all times - almost to the point of making me feel bad if I were to push the issue too much. When someone is being very nice, it is hard to respond to them with anger or even a little more agitation. I guess there is a lesson in that somewhere.

Third, chances are I received some oil at some point before I ordered it on January 5. I couldn't have gone the whole three months after moving in without getting some oil. But I don't think I got all the oil they said I did, and how am I to know which fill was really the oil I got? Do I just choose the least expensive fill, and say that was the oil I got? Do they claim the most expensive one is mine?

Part of the problem is, neither my landlord or I are people who go down to check the tank every day. And why should we be? If I am not expecting oil, and I never get an invoice saying I received it that day, why would I keep checking it to see how much I have? In our previous house in Michigan - a place that was far worse when it comes to insulation - we went through one tank of oil in two years. Granted, our water was not heated by oil, nor did we have a dishwasher, but why would I think that we would go through more oil than that in three months? And why would it be my responsibility to check up on the level of my oil every day, just to check to see if, maybe, I had received oil?

I know this sounds pretty pathetic. After all, we live in America where problems like these pale in comparison to what happens in undeveloped countries. Forgive me for sounding so materialistic and self-centered. I am not usually one to complain about these things. Usually my wife has to do all she can to light a fire underneath me to be upset about these things. But, quite frankly, I can't afford to pay $1000 for oil that I don't know whether I ever got.

Am I wrong?

"And now for the children . . ."

Why do we take the Ten Commandments seriously, but only view Jesus' imperatives as good advice?

We, who emphasize the law so much, wax eloquently about the importance of Sabbath-keeping, abstaining from worshiping graven images, not committing adultery, yet when we come to the Red-Letter words in the New Testament, we herald them as nice ideas.

Take, for example, Jesus' words in Luke 6. In Luke's version of the "Sermon on the Mount," he quotes Jesus as plainly saying, "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods, do not ask them back" (Luke 6:27-30).

Perhaps what is most intriguing is the fact that all of these instructions are in the imperative in the original Greek. On the other hand, none of the Ten Commandments are in the imperative (though they are often translated as such). The imperative form, of course, is the form that indicates command or instruction - it is not simply a piece of advice that can be followed.

Yet how many of us come to Jesus' words in the Gospels and determine to, by God's grace, follow these commands as imperatives? When was the last time you did good to a person who hates you, or prayed for your enemy? Do you "give to everyone" who asks something of you? Do you allow a person to take something from you and not hold it over his head if he doesn't give it back?

These questions are relevant to me, also.

I don't remember the exact quote, but I remember a story that Philip Yancey told in his book, What's So Amazing About Grace? that reflects Christ's imparatives. Apparently, at a civil rights rally back in the '60s, a black woman, who was at the demonstration with her children, was punched in the face by an angry white man. Immediately, the woman reached for her kids and said, "Thank you. And now for the children. . . " Talk about a lady taking Jesus' imperative seriously!

Understandably, many of Jesus' words deal with the heart, rather than just the letter of the law, which makes it a little harder to control. But many of us don't even give mental or theoretical consent to His instruction! It's one thing if we agree with His ideas but have a hard time implementing them, it's a total other thing to not even agree with His words to begin with. (Just the same, the Ten Commandments are issues of the heart as well, anyway).

As a church that prides itself on being the remnant who "keep the commandments of God," do we really keep all of God's commandments, or just the convenient ones?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Confused About the Confusion

Like many people, I am a little sensitive to criticism. But I couldn't help but chuckle when I came across a Letter to the Editor today in the Adventist Review (January 10, 2008) about one of my recent articles.

The author writes: "In reference to Shawn Brace's October 18 cover story 'Saving a Seinfeld Generation From Itself,' just what is selfish about George's not sharing the PIN number to his ATM account? They are not married, so why should they have all property in common? For that matter, nothing is said about Susan's offering to share the PIN to her ATM. They could break up. She could get mad and clean him out. This well-intentioned article is about the most confused I have ever read in the Adventist Review."

Is it really the most confused? That's a bit strong. But, I can't help but laugh over the author's hyperbole. Never mind the fact that the individual is exegeting a mere illustration that comes from a popular TV show. I don't know if Susan gave her PIN number to George or not, and I'm not sure that was the point of the episode (and I certainly know it wasn't the point of the article). Never mind the fact that I was sighting something from a make-believe world and, quite frankly, no one ever gave thought to worrying about the implications of what would happen if they broke up.

But the funniest thing of all is the fact that it was George and Jerry themselves who declared the actions to be selfish! It wasn't even me who was making that point. Jerry Seinfeld, a man who made a living off a show that was about selfishness, declared George's actions to be selfish (as the picture on the right indicates).

Like I said, it struck as funny that some one could give so much thought to such a little point. Incidentally, though I don't read the Review all that often, this is, I believe, the first letter that my articles have received a reaction from. Keep them coming, I guess!

Monday, January 7, 2008

Living to Laugh

Reading through the book of Luke for my personal devotions, I came across a passage the other day that caught my eye. In Luke's slim-downed version of the beatitudes, Jesus says, "Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep" (Luke 6:25). A few verses earlier He had said, "Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh (v. 25).

Obviously, Jesus is not condemning anyone who ever laughs, nor is He discouraging any form of humor. But it got me to thinking: have we idolized humor, comedy, and laughter too much?

If we were to be honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that many of us live to laugh. Even in my own life, I am far too often looking to get a laugh out of people. Not that we should always be serious in life, but in this day and age of "Christian Comedians" and the like, it is apparent that we far too often make comedy and humor our god.

Don't get me wrong. I believe there is a place for levity, but probably not to the extant that we have taken it, especially in the West. How can we be constantly looking for a laugh when in places like Kenya and Darfur, they are just looking for a little peace of mind?

Some will say, I suppose, that humor is a good outlet from all the stresses in the world - like those very things that are taking place in these other countries - but using humor as an outlet is a little different than making humor our sole goal in life. Too many of us live more for the next episode of The Office, Jay Leno, or The Simpsons, than we do trying to alleviate people's suffering and pain.

Maybe God wants us to focus more on the needs of fellow humankind, rather than humoring ourselves to death.

I am speaking more to myself than anyone else.