Thursday, December 29, 2005

Navel destroyer

From ancient times, Christians of a mystical bent have abandoned society in order to spend all their time in prayer.

Well . . . at least they tried. The problem (then as now) is that many Christians found their minds wandering – they just couldn’t concentrate on whatever it was they were supposed to be praying about!

So they tried chanting. And special ways of breathing. And focusing their attention on some special object – a candle maybe, or a picture of Jesus.

In fact, some even tried to rid themselves of all distractions by earnestly contemplating their own belly-buttons.

And yes, that’s where we get the phrase, “navel-gazing.”

And no, I’ve no idea if they found this useful . . . but I’m pretty sure that Paul would not!

All the way through Ephesians, remember, Paul has tried to move our focus outward – away from “me” and “mine” and toward “we” and “us.”

We saw this in his discussion of salvation – a salvation that includes more than just people like us.

We saw this in his discussion of ethics – an ethics that cares about more than just people like us.

Now we see it in Paul’s requests for prayer – requests that ask the Ephesians to pray, not just for themselves, but for Paul and his mission to others.

In short, Paul’s request for prayer is one last attempt to build a community: a group of people who’ve found God by serving others (and not by shutting them out).

So how do you do that in this week’s lesson? Some suggestions:

1. Compare the prayer requests in Ephesians 6:18-20 with the subject of Paul’s prayers in Ephesians 1:15-18 and Ephesians 3:14-19. How are they alike? How are they different?

2. What specific advice does Paul give about prayer in Ephesians 6:18? Why is all of his advice important? Which do you find the most difficult to follow?

3. Why might it have surprised the church in Ephesus that Paul would ask for prayer? How easy do
you find it to ask for prayer? Why is that?

4. Notice the specific things for which Paul asks prayer – for whom do you pray, and how specific are your prayers for them?


Pastor Greg

And remember: “Prayer is not a substitute for taking up your rightful burdens” – John Carmody.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Ten Essentials

You’ve come to a fork in the trail – and you’re pretty sure that you’re supposed to head south . . .

But Fred wanted to take a nap after lunch. So you gave him your one and only copy of the map. And you told him to catch up with you when he could.

So there you are: trying to remember what was on the map.

As for Fred, he’s trying to figure out which way is north – that’s because he has the map, but you still have the compass!

Its situations such as this that made The Mountaineers (an outdoors group based on Seattle) come up with “The Ten Essentials.” That’s their list of ten items that everyone who goes into the outdoors should carry with them at all times – items such as . . . well, if you want to know what’s on their list of Ten Essentials, then click on the title for this particular blog entry.

But if you want to know what’s on Paul’s list of “Essentials,” then read Ephesians 6:13-18. And no, don’t try to get too bogged down in the analogies; as near as I can figure, there’s no particular reason why truth is like a belt, or righteousness is like a breastplate, or even why salvation is like a helmet (as opposed to a javelin, say, or a good pair of shin protectors).

No, Paul’s point is simply that we need all of these things in order to “fight the good fight” – and given what we’ve seen of the church in Ephesus, we can see why he needed to make this point.

All the way through Ephesians, after all, we’ve seen Paul stress that:

  • God reaches out to more than just one group of people.
  • God gives His people more than just one spiritual gift.
  • God gives His people more than just one job to do.

All of which suggests that church members in Ephesus had a hard time remembering (much less doing) more than one thing at once.

So they’d focus on faith – but forget truth.

Or they’d focus on truth, but forget peace.

Or they’d focus on peace, but then they’d go and leave something else behind . . . which may not have seemed all that important at the time, but sooner or later was bound to catch up with them . . .

Kind of like the soldier who remembers his sword, but forgets his belt. To be sure, nobody wins a battle with a belt – but nobody wins without one, either!

That’s why Paul’s been working hard to make sure the Ephesians don’t get so focused on one piece of truth that they forget all the other truths God has for them.

That’s why Paul closes his letter with the reminder that there’s more than just one essential for Christian living. No, there’s several – and we can’t afford to leave any of them behind.

And if you don’t believe that, then just ask Fred.

Pastor Greg

And remember: “If it’s stupid but it works, it’s not stupid” – James F. Dunnigan.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Caine Mutiny Gets Lost in the Poseidon Adventure (and Tremors ensue)

You know the plot – it’s long been a staple of movies and television shows:

A group of people who have nothing in common . . .
A. passengers on an ocean liner
B. survivors of an airplane crash
C. soldiers in wartime
D. residents of a small town in the Nevada desert

. . . must put aside their differences in the face of a common enemy.
A. a gigantic wave that has left them trapped inside the ship
B. hunger, thirst, and polar bears
C. their commanding officer (who’s gone nuts)
D. gigantic carnivorous earthworms.

Sound familiar?

Well, that’s what’s going on in Ephesians 6:10-12. If there’s one thing that’s clear, after all, it’s that those believers in Ephesus really didn’t have much in common. Gender, culture, economic status – you name it, and they had a reason to disagree.

So Paul gives them a common enemy. “If you’re going to fight,” he says in effect, “then fight this” – and as he does so, you’ll notice that he’s very careful to give them an enemy that’s not tied in to any particular group or culture.

“For we battle not against flesh and blood,” he says in verse 12, “but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

In short, we battle against them.

And in the process, we learn who our friends really are.

Pastor Greg

And remember: “It is better to die for a cause that will ultimately succeed, than to live for one that will ultimately fail” – Reinhold Niebuhr.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Pastors in Transition: Why Clergy Leave Local Church Ministry

Why do pastors quit?

That's the question asked by Dean Hoge and Jacqueline Wenger -- and to find out, they interviewed 900 pastors in five different Protestant denominations. As you'll see from the link, there's a lot of good stuff in their book . . . but their most important finding is also the saddest: the biggest reason pastors leave (and pastors get in trouble) is loneliness.

If HMS Richards did it, so can you!

So you've vowed that this is the year you'll read straight through the Bible . . . but you're afraid that you'll get bogged down (once again) in Leviticus? Click on the title to this blog entry for some encouragement and advice. (And yes, it also says some nice things about my book, The QuickStart Guide to the Bible.)

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Get out of jail free?

He was drunk.

He was speeding – in fact, he was driving as fast as 80 miles-per-hour on city streets.

And his driving caused an accident that injured four people, and killed a 16-year-old girl.

So why did the police in Washington D.C. actually let him out of jail?

Because Gueorgui Makharadze was a foreign diplomat – and as such, the police had no choice but to let him go.

And if that doesn’t seem right, then you’ll understand why Paul wrote Ephesians 5:21-6:9.

Paul wrote at a time, you see, when some Christians were claiming “diplomatic immunity.”

“We are citizens of God’s kingdom,” they said in effect. “As such, we don’t need to obey any earthly law. And since God is the only legitimate authority, we are free to ignore all the rest– parents, police, spouses, masters, whatever!”

Like Gueorgui Makharadze, in other words, they thought rules, laws, and obligations were for other people – not them!

Of course, you can imagine how that went over in Roman society. The Romans were the mother of all control freaks, remember. Any slave who got out “uppity,” any child who got out of line, any woman who talked back to her husband – in short, anyone who challenged authority – could expect to pay the price.

And sometimes, they paid with their lives.

That’s why Paul wrote what he did; that’s why Paul told those wives, children, and slaves that following God didn’t always mean you had disobey everyone else. No, they were to “submit to one another,” said Paul, “out of reverence for Christ.”

Mind you, that’s not all Paul said – in fact, Paul spent more time in these verses talking to the people who exercised power than he did to the people who were supposed to obey it. And most of the husbands, parents, and slave-masters who read this letter would have needed to swallow hard before they accepted Paul’s advice.

Then too, Paul himself didn’t always do what he was told; that’s why he was writing this letter from prison!

“But just because you’re a Christian,” says Paul, “that doesn’t mean you get diplomatic immunity.”

I mean, even diplomats don’t always get diplomatic immunity!

No sooner did Gueorgui Makharadze get out of jail, for instance, than the State Department got on the phone, and asked his home country to waive his immunity.

They did.

And that’s why Gueorgui Makharadze is now in jail, doing time for manslaughter. He may have been working for another country, in other words, but that country still wanted him to obey our laws.

Just like it says in Ephesians.

Pastor Greg

And remember: “Prayer is not a substitute for taking up our rightful burdens” – John Carmody.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Intelligent Design hits a rough patch

Click on the above title for a quick (and slightly hostile) overview of just why theories of "intelligent design" seems to be running into trouble.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Time to dust off those temperance songs?

So . . . is light to moderate drinking really good for you?

Click on the title above, and find out!

"I Come to the Garden" was a distant fourth.

David Stabler reports in the Oregonian that:

In Europe, Queen's "The Show Must Go On" was voted the most popular funeral song in a recent survey of 45,000 adults by the TV channel Music Choice. Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" came in second and AC/DC's "Highway to Hell" third.

Want to know more? Click on the title for the whole article.

Getting in touch with your inner adult

More than anything else, children want to grow up.

Look at the games they play. Little girls play “house” and “dress up.” Little boys . . . well, left to themselves, most boys love nothing more than a fast game of “let’s chase the wooly mammoth – and once we’ve killed it, let’s defend it against the neighboring tribe.” (Which explains a lot, now that I think about it.)

The fact remains that children spend most of their time practicing what it means to be an adult. And as anyone who’s ever given driving lessons to a 15-year-old can tell you, most children long for the day when they’re finally out on their own.

Unfortunately, the bumper-sticker is right: “growing up is optional; growing older is not.” Not every child turns into an adult, in other words; there are plenty of people collecting Social Security who are still childish and immature.

That’s the fate Paul tries to avoid in Ephesians 5:1-20 – he wants believers to “grow up.” And the best way for believers to do this, he knows, is the same way children do this: you grow up by copying adults. Just as children practice keeping house (and chasing wooly mammoths), so too he urges believers to practice acting like God.

“Be imitators of God,” Paul says in verse one, “. . . as dearly beloved children and live a life of love, just as Jesus loved us. . . .”

Paul goes on to list some of the ways we can “act” like adults. (He also lists some we should avoid!) If you like, you can think of them as rules for the playground – God’s tips on how to “grow up big and strong.”

But the bottom line of these verses . . . well, it’s the same question that we keep asking our children:

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Pastor Greg

And remember: “A Christian should be prepared to look good on wood” – Daniel Berrigan.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Fragment of yet another early church epistle, recently discovered at Tel al-nutherwan

Dear Thaddeus:

You’ll be glad to hear that things are going well here in the mission field. I’m glad to report that the gentiles are really anxious to learn more about the true God of Israel.

And yes, there has been some trouble with that so-called “apostle” by the name of Paul. He brought a large number of people into the church without any kind of adequate preparation – and just as you predicted, many of them still continue to see themselves as gentiles. At one time, as a matter of fact, there was even talk of the church celebrating a week of “Gentile Pride”!

Fortunately, we’ve put a stop to all that; we’ve made it clear that following the God of Israel means following the exact same kind of lifestyle that His people back home have always practiced. And yes, this kind of “straight testimony” has caused a real “shaking” in our local church – but those who remain have been ever so grateful for our support and guidance.

Thank you for your regular shipments of used yarmulkes and phylacteries; the people here are always so eager to receive them. And do keep us in your prayers – next week, I’ll be explaining to the locals just why circumcision remains an “everlasting covenant” (Genesis 17:13).

Blessings,

Sylvanus T. Birdwhistle
for WEEDS: the World-wide Evangelistic & Educational Development Service

Thursday, November 17, 2005

And let's not even talk about the miter box!

Years ago, I read a story in INSIGHT magazine about a toolbox that didn’t get along.

And looking back, it’s easy to see why. If there was one thing on which everyone agreed, it’s that the glue was terribly “stuck up.”

Unfortunately, none of the other tools were any better – in fact, they had all their problems. The rasp, for instance, could be very rough. The awl was boring. The hammer was blunt. The pliers pinched. The tape measure was always pointing out how everyone else just didn’t measure up. The wrench seemed to have nothing better to do with its time than to hang out with a bunch of nuts. And while the saw was sharp, it could be terribly cutting in its dealings with others.

No, these were clearly some tools with major problems.

But one day, a Carpenter came along . . . and used those tools to build a church.

Pastor Greg

And remember: “God’s love is a net that pulls in all kinds of fish” – Jesus of Nazareth.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Who do you want to be when you grow up?

Ask most folk what church people are like, and they’ll tell you that, “Church people are good people. A little narrow-minded, maybe. Exclusive. And not generally the kind of people you’d invite to a party on New Year’s Eve . . . but still, they’re good, respectable people.”

Now ask them what they think of Jesus – and if they’ve spent any time reading the Bible, they’ll tell you that, “Jesus was always getting in trouble with the authorities because he got invited to the wrong parties, and he hung out with the wrong people.”

In short, most people would say that church people don’t have much in common with Jesus. What’s more, they’d probably tell you that, as much as they admire church people, they’re not very comfortable around them. Jesus, on the other hand . . . well, they like Jesus a lot more than they like us.

So . . . why is their such a difference between the way most folk think of church people, and the way they think of Jesus?

What would happen if church people were more like Jesus?

What would need to change in order for this to happen?

And what does Ephesians 3:14-21 have to say about it all?

Greg Brothers

And remember: “[Christians] get along, not because we are good but because we are forgiven” – Eugene Peterson.

Friday, November 04, 2005

“The people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light” – Luke 16:18 (NIV).

If you want to understand what Ephesians 2:11-22 means today (and why these verses were so radical in Paul’s day), then I want you to try an experiment – a thought experiment:

I want you to imagine two people – we’ll call them Mike and Reggie. And just to make things interesting, we’ll say that Mike and Reggie don’t have much in common. Mike is white, while Reggie is black. Mike grew up in a small town, while Reggie was from the big city. Mike is skinny and short and shy, while Reggie is a big, confident man who always knew where to find a good time.

But let’s say that Mike and Reggie both joined the Army. Both served in Iraq – in fact, both served in the same squad. And talking things over, both discovered that each man had an Adventist grandmother . . . an Adventist grandmother who was praying each and every day for her grandson’s safety and conversion.

And yes, the prayers of both grandmothers were answered. After a couple of especially close calls, Mike and Reggie began studying the Bible together. As a result, both were baptized. Both became members of the Adventist Church. And both decided to become pastors.

So here’s what I want you to do: I want you to come up with a good explanation for the fact that Mike and Reggie might end up working in the same city as pastors of churches that are right next door to each other – but one of those churches will be white, and the other black.

Once you’ve done that, then I want you to explain why the Mike and Reggie will end up working for two different Conferences: one white and the other black.

Next, I’d like you to explain why the Church needs to do all this – why the Adventis Church needs, not just separate churches for whites and blacks, but separate administrative structures for those white churches and black churches . . .

When the Army does not.

When they were in the Army, after all, Mike and Reggie served in the same unit – and yes, they even worshipped in the same chapel!

But in the Church, they won’t.

Why not?

And what does Ephesians 2:11-22 say about that?

Pastor Greg

And remember: “Efficiency is not a synonym for good” – Robert Fogel, winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

You are the present God gives to Himself

Remember when you were six-years-old, and you were going to buy a birthday present for your mother?

How you went to the store where she took you?

Picked out the gift she'd suggested?

Counted out the money she'd given to you?

And when you took it home and gave it to her . . . do you remember how pleased she was?

Of course you do -- and if you can remember that feeling, then you'll understand why Paul said the things he did in Ephesians 2:1-10.

You see, Paul is going to be talking about a lot of things that Christians really should be doing -- things such as love, and obedience, and not getting drunk or sleeping around.

You know -- rules. The kind of rules that make some people think that Christianity is nothing more than a long list of "thou shalt nots."

And yes, the kind of rules that make some Christians think that Christianity is nothing more than a long list of all the things we need to do in order for God to love us.

That's why Paul begins this section with a long list of all the things that God has done for us -- and by the time Paul is done, it's clear that God has already done pretty much everything that needs to be done.
  • God made us alive, raised us from the dead, and seated us with Christ in heavenly realms.
  • God saved us and created us.
  • And God even prepared in advance the good works that He asks us to do.

In short, God is like your mother on her birthday, back when you were six-years-old: God made it possible for you to do everything that you do for Him.

And if you're still wondering why you should do all the stuff God asks you to do (even if it doesn't earn us any brownie-points with God), then ask yourself another question:

Just why was your mother so pleased when you gave her that birthday present?

Pastor Greg

And remember: "All men are by Nature equal, but differ greatly in the sequel" -- Nathaniel Ames.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Ten things to do during a boring Pastors' Meeting

It’s no secret that even the best Pastors’ Meeting can have its tedious moments. That’s why I’m offering these suggestions on how to occupy your time during the boring parts of this year’s meeting . . . just so you’ll be awake and alert for the really important stuff!

1. Have a take-out pizza delivered to the meeting. Share it with those around you.

2. Look through your Conference directory, and start dialing the cell-phone numbers of other pastors. If anyone answers, remind them to turn-off their cell-phone during meetings. (Don will thank you for this.)

3. Mentally translate everything the speaker says into pirate-talk. (“Argh, me hearties – treasure there be in the pension plan . . . but not for the likes of you!”)

4. Two words: laser pointer.

5. Announce theme days: on Wednesday, for instance, try to get everyone to dress up like cowboys. On Thursday, come as your favorite Biblical character. On Friday, everyone should wear bunny slippers.

6. Shout “amen!” every time somebody says the word, “Oregon.”

7. Sell popcorn.

8. Sing “Father Abraham” silently to yourself while you’re sitting there – and yes, do all the actions as well.

9. Sit behind somebody who brought a laptop so that you can watch him play “Doom.”

10. Walk out of the room holding a pocket calculator next to your ear. If anyone notices that it’s not a cell phone, tell them “the reception is terrible – but at least there’s no roaming fee.”

Pastor Greg

And remember: "All systems ready. All preparations complete. All pigs fed and ready to fly" -- taken from a wall plaque.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Use it or . . .

My computer is smarter than I deserve.

And no, that doesn't mean that it always does what I want it to do -- it's just that the computer knows how to do more than I want it to do!

Take e-mail, for instance. For years, I would laboriously type in every e-mail address for every person who was going to get a copy of that particular e-mail. Then I found out there was an easier way; all I had to do was set up a file that contained all those e-mail addresses (such as "Church Elders" or "family newsletter"), type in the name of that file, and the computer would take care of the rest.

Likewise, my computer knows how to add music to my PowerPoint programs. It can design webpages. And it could even let me while away the hours playing solitaire . . .

If I could only figure out how to use what's already there.

And that's what this week's lesson is all about. For in Ephesians 1:15-23, Paul prays that "the eyes of [our] heart may be enlightened in order that [we] may know:
  • the hope to which he has called [us],
  • the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,
  • and his incomparably great power for us who believe."

Notice that all of these things belong to us now; we already have them (just as my computer already has the ability to do a lot of stuff that I never ask it to do).

But if my computer could do so much more than it is right now -- and if it already has the ability to do so much more than it is doing right now -- then maybe I need to spend more time with the manual?

Likewise, if God . . . well, I'll let you take it from there.

Pastor Greg

And remember: "Sin is the failure to grow" -- Gregory of Nyssa.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

But is this what God is looking for?

When the Methodist Church did a big study of just what its members were looking for in pastors, here's what they found:

The personal qualities that are valued most:
1. A caring nature
2. Honesty
3. Cooperation
4. Self-control
5. Inspiration
6. Loyalty
7. Intelligence
8. Supportiveness
In short, "nice is good!"


The professional skills that are valued most:
1. Strong preaching
2. Management ability
3. Administration
4. Leadership and vision
5. Education
6. Worship
7. Community involvement
8. Evangelism
In short, "take care of us!"

(Source: Rick Lawrence's TrendWatch: insights that fuel authentic youth ministry. Loveland, Colorado: Group, 2000.)

Pastor Greg

And remember: "There has never been a pastor fired for visiting too much" -- Kyle Childress.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Everlasting Arms

It's late at night. You're on your way to Grandma's house. And you don't have to worry about a thing -- not drunks, not speedtraps, not cows that wander out onto the road -- because you're six-years-old, and your father is driving.

That's what Paul meant by "security" -- the feeling you get when you know that somebody who loves you is in charge of your life.

And that's why Paul uses such scary language in Ephesians 1:3-14 -- language that stresses the fact that God is running things (and we're not).

I mean, if you grew up with the idea that "I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul," then it's a little worrisome to be told that your salvation is solely due to the fact that:
  • God chose us.
  • God predestined us.
  • God adopted us.
  • God included us.
  • And God marked us with His seal, i.e. the Holy Spirit.

But let's be honest: if you were Paul (and you became a Christian the way that Paul did), then you're going to have a pretty healthy appreciation for God's ability to make things happen.

And if your were writing to the church in Ephesus -- a church that was dealing with terrible opposition from the outside and horrible divisions on the inside -- then yes, you'd probably emphasize the idea that nothing surprises God, nothing flusters God, and nothing (but nothing!) can ruin His plans.

In short, you'd emphasize the same thing that Paul does in these verses; you'd emphasize the sovereignity of God.

And no, this doesn't mean that we don't have a say in what happens to us; in fact, Paul assumes our freedom of choice in the rest of this book.

But when it's getting late, and the road is dark, and you don't know what lies ahead . . .

That's when it's nice to know that somebody else is driving.

Pastor Greg

And remember: "We must believe in free will; we have no choice!" -- Saul Bellow.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Dealing with dry spells

Even the best church gets old sometimes; even the best pastor goes through dry spells – those long, lonesome times when you don’t much feel like preaching, or visiting, or doing much of anything at all.

“Now if symptoms persist,” as the commercials like to say, “then see your doctor.” Roughly one out of every six American adults will suffer from depression at some point in their lives – and this is one problem where professional help can make a world of difference. (Trust me on this!)

And yes, there are times when a move can help; nothing sucks the joy out of ministry like a church you shouldn’t be pastoring.

But if you’ve just been feeling just a little “flat” lately, then here are some things that you might want to try:

Make sure you're not sick: coming down with the flu can feel just like a spiritual crisis. (So can diabetes!) Give those blues a couple of days, in other words, and see if they cure themselves (or develop into some kind of illness that you recognize). Meanwhile, get lots of rest and drink plenty of fluids.

Exercise: yeah, I know – that’s the last thing you feel like doing just now. (And besides, who has the time?) But when it comes to beating the “blahs,” nothing beats a half-hour walk every day.

Time off: Check the palms of your hands – see any nail-prints? No? Guess what: you are not the savior of the world . . . and it just may be possible that your people don’t need your help all of the time. So take a day off every week, take all of your vacation-time every year, and don’t be afraid to call in sick when you’re not feeling well.

Hobbies: some times are tougher than others; myself, I’ve always had trouble with Sundays, the week between Christmas and New Year, and early October (when the rainy season begins in Lincoln City). These are the times you need to stay busy – but you need to stay busy with something other than work, i.e. photography, carpentry, or that model train layout you’ve been meaning to finish for the past eight years.

Time with other pastors: Pastoring is a lonely job – not only does our job set us apart in the minds of most people, but we move a lot and we know too many secrets. (Then too, the Adventist church has never really figured out how to take care of the pastors it does have.) That’s why it’s always a good idea to meet with other pastors on a regular basis. And no, you don’t need an agenda; just a time to meet for coffee and pie is enough.

More time for devotions: it was Phil Yancey who said, “if your well is running dry, then you need to dig deeper.” Enough said.

Pastor Greg

And remember: “Nothing is impossible for those who don’t have to do it” – anonymous.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Fragment of an early church epistle, recently discovered at Tel al-nutherwan

Dear Paul:

Thank you for your letter concerning your ideas for a “church plant” in Ephesus. While we value your enthusiasm, we do have some concerns regarding the wisdom of your approach.

First, it should be noted that Ephesus is a somewhat problematic location for evangelistic activity. Our surveys show that the “Temple of Diana” is extremely popular with all major segments of the local population; this clearly indicates that your work in Ephesus would meet with little success – and even outright hostility.

Then too, you have neglected one of the most important principles in church growth – that of “homogenous groups.” As you should know, people like to be with people like themselves; that is why we urge churches to target one specific group for outreach (such as blue-collar fans of Country Music, or upper-middle class married couples with children in college who own a second-home on the coast, eat out at least twice a week, and enjoy light jazz). Needless to say, your plans to reach “both Jew and Gentile, both Greek and barbarian, both slave and free” are commendable, but hopelessly unrealistic.

Finally, it’s clear that you’ve not yet made adequate plans for the continuing leadership needs of your “church plant.” As you should know, current research proves that long pastorates are best; churches do best when their pastors stay in place for a long time. If you want to start a church in Ephesus, in other words, then you really should plan on spending the rest of your life in nurturing the people there.

Included with this letter you’ll find a brochure, listing some of the seminars and workshops we offer on effective church growth. Please look it over – and if there’s any way we can help you in the future, don’t hesitate to call.

Sincerely yours

TK Enumclaw

Thaddeus K. Enumclaw, President
WEEDS: the World-wide Evangelistic Education & Development Service

Sunday, October 02, 2005

You could already be a winner!

How many times have you taken a call to another church . . . only to find (as Milton Adams put it) that “it may be a different can, but it’s the same old worms”?

That’s why I’ve put together this questionnaire. Any church that’s interested in giving me a call . . . just fill it out, send it in along with a $20 bill, and then we’ll talk.

Ready? Grab a #2 pencil, and start writing!

1. The last pastor of your church [circle all that apply]:
a. was a saint, no matter what the Grand Jury might have said!
b. retired, and now chairs the Church Board.
c. was doing fine, right up to the day he showed up at a Business Meeting wearing high heels and an evening gown.
d. disappeared – and while we don’t really miss him, we do wish he’d come back and show us how to run the church copier.

2. If your church was a TV show, which of the following would it be?
a. Fear Factor
b. Survivor
c. Desperate Housewives
d. Gilligan’s Island

3. Which statement best describes the way your church makes decisions?
a. We have a small group of key people who make all the decisions (whether the rest of us like it or not).
b. We wait until things reach a crisis; then panic.
c. We’ve formed a committee to answer this question – let us get back to you on that.
d. We favor an open-style of decision-making that doesn’t really accomplish anything, but it does make us all feel included.

4. Based on the way your church spends money, what are its real priorities?
a. We’re a historical preservation society that’s dedicated to the maintenance of our church building.
b. We like our peace and quiet; if somebody squawks, we just keep throwing money at them until they shut up.
c. Actually, we’re still trying to figure out where all the money went.
d. One of our previous pastors helped us develop a “mission and goals statement” that we used to set financial priorities. Now if we could just remember where we put it . . .

5. The youth of your church are:
a. Mainly attending another church.
b. The future of our church – but meanwhile, they need to learn the meaning of “reverence.”
c. Largely the concern of an elderly couple who's been working in the Youth Department for 47-years, and has some real issues with co-dependency.
d. We need to talk about this later. In private.

6. When you hear the word “evangelism,” your first reaction is to:
a. Set aside an afternoon to pass out leaflets door-to-door.
b. Take note of which evening they’ll talk about “the mark of the beast,” so that you can be sure to invite all of your Catholic relatives.
c. Schedule a four-week vacation.
d. Suspect that the pastor is using this an excuse to change the Order of Worship and bring in a "celebration" type worship service.

7. We sure hope that our new pastor:
a. Enjoys working with plumbing -- and if he knows how to install drywall, that's a bonus!
b. Straightens out the following people [supply names here]:
c. Does not use words like “paradigm shift,” “emergent,” and “post-modern.”
d. Desn't change a thing – in fact, we've a list of recent changes that we want him to un-do!

BONUS QUESTION: When was the last time somebody got food poisoning at one of your church potlucks?

Pastor Greg

And remember: "The more difficult it is to follow God in any set of circumstances, the greater the obligation to remain in those circumstances" -- William Barclay.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Tell me the story of Jesus

. . . then she smiled – and I knew she was the one for me.

That’s a Creation Story. To be specific, it’s the story of how I met the woman who became my wife. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told that story:

  • to my kids,
  • to my friends,
  • and even to church members . . .

Because that story – like all good Creation Stories – says something important about who I am and what I believe.

The Jews knew this. As a quick glance at the Bible will tell you, they weren’t much on abstract philosophy; the Jews didn’t spend a lot of time back then in talking about the Nature of Truth or the Meaning of Life.

No, when God’s people wanted to talk about something important, they told stories. Stories about beginnings. Stories about the time God met Abraham. Or the way God helped David set up his kingdom. Or why it fell. Or how God brought His people back to their own land again.

In a phrase, they told Creation Stories – and in doing so, they learned what it means to be God’s people.

Likewise, this week you’ll be studying three Creation Stories – three accounts of just how the church in Ephesus got started. And as you discuss Acts 19-21, Acts 19:1-41, and Acts 20:17-38, you should learn more than just who, when, and where. No, you should also look at how, why, and what.

  • How did God lead His people.
  • Why did God do this?
  • And what does this tell you about following God today?

In short, your job is to take their Creation Story, and make it yours as well. It’s a lot easier to know where you’re going, after all, if you know where you’ve already been.

Pastor Greg

And remember: “All the way to heaven is heaven” – Teresa of Avila.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Seven things I never want to hear again at a Pastor's Meetings

Like dandelions on a church lawn, there are some cliches that nothing seems to kill . . . but that doesn't mean I won't stop trying. So here's my list of "six things I never want to hear again at a Pastor's Meeting":

1. “You should spend an hour in preparation for every minute you spend in the pulpit.”
Get serious – anyone who does this either:

  • the Senior Pastor of a very large church, or
  • preaching very short sermons.

Checking around, I find that most pastors spend roughly 12-hours a week in sermon preparation (plus or minus three hours). So tell us how to use this time more effectively –and please stop burdening us with unrealistic expectations!

2. “We need a return to Primitive Godliness”
As commonly used, this means “let’s stop talking about the tough issues that trouble our church today.”

3. “Traditional Family Values”
Actually, one of the biggest things that the Romans hated about Christianity was the way it subverted their traditional family values – and if you can’t understand why they felt that way, then maybe you haven’t preached lately on Luke 14:26.

4. “Life in the trenches.”
Soldiers haven’t fought in trenches since World War I – and when they did, their senior officers were not there in the trenches with them; instead, they were enjoying life’s little luxuries back in headquarters. So what are we really saying when we use this phrase to describe the pastoral ministry?

5. “Conservative churches are growing.”
Some are. Some aren’t. By and large:

  • Conservative churches that embrace popular culture are growing (think Rick Warren).
  • Conservative churches that kick out their moderates are not (think Southern Baptists).

[October 9: just finished an article in the October 4 issue of Christian Century on the decline in mainline churches; if the sociologists who wrote it are right, 70% of the reason for this decline is due to smaller family sizes, and 30% is due to a drop-off in people switching from conservative to mainline churches. And in both cases, the reason may be something as simple as the fact that mainline churches have pretty much always allowed their members to use birth-control, while conservative churches did not. Whether that's true or not, it's something to think about -- GB.

6. “The historic faith of the Protestant Reformers.”
The implication, of course, is that any change in our understanding of prophecy or Creationism is a crypto-Catholic plot – an implication that overlooks the fact that Martin Luther also believed:

  • the sun circles the earth,
  • infants should be baptized,
  • and the Book of Revelation should be excluded from the New Testament.

In short, Luther was a great man . . . but that didn’t mean he was always right.

7. "He has the heart of a pastor." Often used to introduce Conference administrators, this phrase is meant to reassure me. Instead, it reminds me of Stephen King's remark that he can write the way he does "because I have the heart of a small child -- and I keep it in a jar on my desk."


Pastor Greg

And remember: “Sinners can always repent, but stupid is forever” – evangelist Billy Sunday.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Lord of Then is the Lord of Now

And I saw a great crowd whom no one could number, stretched out before the throne of God. And books were opened. And judgment was set.

And verily, a remnant did push their way to the front. And they did complain with great complaints, saying unto Him that sat upon the throne, “Lord, thou didst not conform unto the predictions we had made, and thou didst not arrive according to the schedules we had set. And behold, thou hast made us look like fools!”

And the Lord said, “Say what?”

And they did open their books, and they did unroll their charts, and they did set up their PowerPoint presentations . . . and they did demonstrate what manner of coming the Lord should have done.

“For there should have been a Great Time of Trouble Such as Never Was Since the World Began,” they did say, being very careful to capitalize properly. “And only after that should the end have come. But lo, the Great Time of Trouble did not arrive as we had predicted – and that is why we were sore amazed at your return.”

And the Lord did scratch His head and say, “So what do you call the Twentieth Century?”

And they did reply and say, “What?”

“The Twentieth Century – you remember it, I’m sure. More people died of war, famine, and disease in that century than any other. In fact, more died of these things during that century than just about all the rest of history put together. And if that doesn’t count as a Great Time of Et cetera, then I don’t know what does.”

And at that, the remnant did look somewhat relieved (and even a little embarrassed); and its members did say, “We hope that thou dost not hold it against us, that we did not realize this was going on . . . for we did live in the United States, and we did miss out on most of the suffering during that time. In short, it would seem that this particular prophecy did not apply to us.”

“I guess not,” said the Lord. “But there is another one that does: ‘For I was hungry . . .’”

Pastor Greg

And remember: “To live is to pray. To pray is to love. And to love is to serve” – Henri Nouwen.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Doing well by doing good

Click on the title of this particular essay, and you can read a nifty article in The New York Times about everything that Big Business is doing to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Impressive stuff, right? In fact, you might want to share it with your Sabbath School class -- and having done so, you'll then want to discuss these questions:

1. Businesses are donating aid to hurricane victims, not just these people need help, but also because they believe that doing so will help their reputation . . . and ultimately, help them make even more money. Does it matter why they help, just so long as they do -- and if that's true for businesses, then why isn't it true for people?

2. Why are people so eager to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina? Why aren't we just as willing to help others in need (such as the homeless, the mentally ill, or the 40 million Americans who lack health insurance)?

3. Should our church do more to advertise the good things it does through Community Services, etc? What about recognizing the work of specific church members (such as the people who work in Communty Services)? What about recognizing the donations of specific church members (such as those who've given heavily to our Building Fund?)

4. What is the best way to teach our children about service? Should we require students at our school to volunteer in our community? Does this discriminate against students who must also work in order to pay their school bills?

Have fun!

Pastor Greg

And remember: "Any idiot can face a crisis -- it's the day-to-day living that wears you out" -- Molly Ivins.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Go figure!

Most of us are pretty average.

And if you don’t believe me, check out Al Reimche’s section in your Statistical Report to the Delegates for this year’s constituency meeting. While I’m no expert on statistics, I did manage to figure out that:

There are no Adventist mega-churches in Oregon.
Our three biggest churches (Meadow Glade, Pleasant Valley, and Sunnyside) all average 450 to 500 people in attendance every Sabbath. That’s wonderful – but it ain’t Willow Creek.

You don’t have to be very big to be big.
Roughly 80% of the churches in this Conference have an average attendance of 150 or less.

To them who have, more shall be given.
Half the people who actually attend church in this Conference do so in a church where the average attendance is 150 or more.

Most of us aren’t seeing much growth.
In fact, overall attendance has been pretty much flat for the past five years. The exceptions: Beaverton, Hillsboro Spanish, Kelso-Longview, Medford, Pleasant Valley, Riverside, Roseburg, Salem Spanish, Tabernacle, Woodburn Spanish . . . and maybe Forest Grove, University Park, Vancouver, and Your Bible Speaks.

Our new church plants aren’t doing much.
The big exception here is church plants that target a specific ethnic group – all in all, they seem to be doing fine. But when it comes to attendance, the rest of them have pretty much hit a plateau . . . and some of them are even in decline.

So what does it all mean? Hard to say – but if you don’t speak Spanish, it looks as though your best shot at church growth is to pastor a church that's located in:
*a growing suburb of Portland (viz. Beaverton or Pleasant Valley).
*a major retirement community (viz. Medford or Roseburg).
*a town with a pulp mill (viz. Kelso-Longview or Riverside).

Pastor Greg

And remember: “Professionals are predictable, but the world is full of amateurs” – from Murphy’s Laws of Combat, collected by James F. Dunnigan.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Church secretaries

Our church secretary is retiring -- and to hire a new one, we had to figure out just exactly what a church secretary does.

Well, we finally came up with a job description -- and if you'd like a copy, send me an e-mail!

Pastor Greg

And remember: "You overcome weakness by developing strength" -- Peter Drucker

Thursday, September 08, 2005

How many Adventists does it take to change a lightbulb?

Sometimes, you need to change things in order to keep them the same.

When it came time to eat the Passover meal, for instance, Jesus sat down.

And if that doesn’t seem odd, then take a look at Exodus 12:11. Speaking of the first Passover service, God said to Moses that “this is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.”

In short, Passover was the original fast-food meal; when you ate it, you were supposed to be on your feet and ready to go.

Why?

Because Passover was the sign you were no longer a slave; now you were free to leave Egypt!

But Matthew 26:20, Mark 14:18, and Luke 22:14 all agree that the Last Supper was a sit-down affair – that Jesus and his disciples all “reclined” at table.

So what gives? Why did Jesus and his followers sit down when they should have been standing up? Didn’t they know what the Bible said?

Well, yes – they probably did. But in the days of Jesus, only slaves ate standing up . . . and to eat the Passover meal that way would definitely give the wrong impression! That’s why the rabbis said that Passover should be eaten while you were sitting down – the way free people ate.

In short, Passover was still about freedom – that hadn’t changed.

But to make sure God’s people understood that unchanging message of freedom . . . well, that’s why they brought in the chairs.

Likewise, God doesn’t change. The gospel doesn’t change. And our need for that gospel will never change.

But if we want people to understand just what hasn’t changed . . . if we want people to accept just what hasn't changed . . . and if we want people to worship the God who doesn't change . . .

Then maybe we need to make some changes around here?

Pastor Greg

And remember: “Things that can’t go on forever, don’t” – Herbert Stein.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Back in the days when my Mom was on the contract negotiating team for the Portland teacher’s union, she used to tell me this joke:

“So the union rep calls a meeting with the teachers and says, ‘This year, we’ve got a contract that I think you’re really going to like: double the pay, early retirement, and you only need to come in for work on Wednesdays. Any questions?’

And a voice from the back shouts out, ‘You mean, every Wednesday?’”

Her point, of course, was that no job is perfect – and even if it was, then we still wouldn’t be happy!

Not always.

Not all the time.

Ask the people in your class what they like about their job, after all, and they’ll tell you:
  • it pays (though not enough).
  • it gives them a sense of purpose (though not always).
  • it gets them out and about (though that does get old at times).

In short, work can be a blessing – but like everything else on this fallen world of ours, it is never more than mixed-blessing.

And right there, you have one of the most important points that you can make in this week’s lesson: it’s the fact that there’s no great and shining job that’s out there waiting for the members of your Sabbath School class – no wonderful career that will meet all their needs, no perfect profession that will satisfy all their desires.

No, all jobs have their downside – that’s the bad news.

The good news is that God can take even the worst job, and make it a blessing anyway.

Even if you have to work every Wednesday.

Pastor Greg

And remember: “You can get much farther with kind words and a gun than you can with kind words alone” – Al Capone.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Whatever happened to Ellen White?

We might as well admit it: our kids are not reading Ellen White.

Read the latest report from ValueGenesis or talk to an academy Bible teacher – they’ll tell you she’s neither liked or disliked by most of our students; she’s simply ignored.

And yes, it would be easy to say this was just another “sign of the times”; it would be easy to blame this on the declining spiritual values of our youth . . . if it weren't for the fact that our youth are actually doing pretty well.

In fact, our children are now more likely than ever before to say they read their Bibles, pray, and have accepted Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior; they are doing better in almost every objective measure of spirituality except the study of Ellen White.

So what’s going on?

I suspect that some of this is a backlash . . . not so much by the kids themselves as by their teachers, pastors, and parents. It’s my generation – the “boomers” born in the Fifties and Sixties – who talk of Ellen White “being crammed down our throats.” Now we’ve swung to the opposite extreme: my generation hardly mentions her at all!

Then too, we’ve done a poor job of introducing her to the next generation. Ninety-years after she died, there’s still no good biography of Ellen White. No documentaries, dramatizations, or plays. No single-volume collection of her “greatest hits” that you can use as an introduction to her works. Not even a decent website.

(I mean, you can't even get her books on tape! How difficult would that be?)

Finally, we’ve changed our view of spiritual gifts. In the past, remember, we believed that God had poured out the Holy Spirit on His church through the Spirit of Prophecy. Now we believe that God pours out His Spirit on every Christian. Every Christian, we say, has been gifted by the Spirit. But if every single Christian has thus been gifted . . . then what makes Ellen White unique?

And if she’s not unique . . . well, you can guess where that line of reasoning will get you!

In short, there’s no single reason why Ellen White is slowly disappearing from our churches and schools – just as there’s no single solution that will bring her back.

But if we don’t act soon, then our kids will never discover Ellen White.

And that means their kids will never discover Ellen White.

And we won’t be around to tell them what they’re missing.

Pastor Greg

And remember: “The faithful discharge of today’s duties is the best preparation for tomorrow’s trials” – Ellen White, The Ministry of Healing.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Do acronymns cure cancer?

So you’ve come to that part of the Sabbath School class where you talk about just how to live a long and healthy life . . . but you’re not sure how to pull things together in a way that makes sense.

And yes, you could use the acronym NEWSTART® – i.e. nutrition, exercise, water, sunshine, temperance, air, rest, and trust in God – but it’s a trademark; it’s not something you should use unless you’re referring specifically to the lifestyle program that is offered by Weimar College.

That’s why I ask people to take care of themselves with a Dr’s Care. That means they’ve a better chance of living a long, healthy life if they are:

Drug-free: that mean no DDT (i.e. drugs, drinking, or tobacco).

Rested: 7-9 hours of sleep every night.

Safe: Accidents kill more young people than anyting else, so use those seat-belts in the car, wear life-jackets on the water, and don’t run with scissors.

Clean: wash your hands, brush your teeth, and don’t forget to floss -- not only will this give you healthy gums, but it cuts your risk of dying from pneumonia!

Active: exercise 30-minutes a day, three to four days a week.

Religious: it’s true – church members do live longer!

Eating right: more fruits and vegetables, less fast-food and junk-food.

Pastor Greg

And remember: "When it comes to health, you need to check your facts carefully -- many's the man who died of a misprint" -- Mark Twain.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Student Assistance

It’s that time of year again – the time churches start shelling out money for Student Assistance i.e. financial aid for the children who attend our schools.

And yes, it’s money well spent . . . but you can prevent some of the headaches that often come with it if you:

Get help!
Check with your Home and School Association to see what it can do. This year, for instance, one of our parents’ groups took responsibility for the non-Adventist students who need financial aid – a $4500 commitment!

Set a deadline.
We don’t guarantee anything to anyone who asks for help after June 15. That gives us the time we need to look over requests and line up support.

Ask them to do their share.
People who need help should get help – but there’s no sense helping people who won’t do what they can. That’s why we make it clear that a family may lose all or part of its student assistance if:

  • their child has more than eight unexcused absences for the year,
  • and/or their child fails a class,
  • and/or the family falls behind in paying their share of tuition.

Come up with a standardized form.
In our church, every family who needs student assistance must answer seven questions:
1. What is your total family income from all sources?
2. Do you have any unusual expenses that make it especially difficult to pay your child’s tuition?
3. Which children need scholarships, and what grades will they be in?
4. Will any of your children be working in order to help pay their own tuition?
5. Please list the names of other sources (such as relatives and friends) that you have already asked for financial assistance.
6. If your child will be in grades 9-12, have you applied for YES money?
7. How much financial help do you need?

Maintain confidentiality
We’ve a Student Assistance Committee – four church members who look over requests and decide what to do with them. They’re the only ones who know who’s asked for help . . . and when they’ve made their decision, the only thing they take to the Board is the total amount of student assistance that’s been requested for that year.

Keep it legal.
Remember: church members cannot “sponsor” a specific child (even if they’re not related); they can only give money to the student assistance fund that’s been established by your church.

One last point – we’ve found it helpful to take student assistance out of the Combined Budget and run it as a separate fund.

  • First, some people will give to student assistance who won’t give to Combined Budget (and vice versa).
  • Second, it makes it easier to keep track of just how your Student Assistance fund is doing.
  • And this way, when our student assistance fund goes into the red (as it does on a regular basis), it doesn’t foul up all the other accounts that are run out of Combined Budget.


And remember: “If you want to know what God thinks of money, look at who [He] gives it to” – Anne Lamott.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Thoughts of Chairman Ellen

Read much of Ellen White, and one thing becomes clear: she was really bugged by the middle-class.

Take her advice on jewelry, for instance. Or music. Or even bicycles.

In each case, her chief concern was the effect of new-found wealth on the mission of our church.

And yes, this was a problem. (Still is!) Join the church, after all, and you stop drinking (which makes you a better employee). You start paying tithe (which forces you to keep track of your money). And you send your kids to an Adventist school (which almost guarantees that they’ll have a better job than you do).

As a result, the church becomes an economic escalator – one that picks up farmers and mechanics, gives them kids who are pastors and teachers, and eventually produces grand-kids who are doctors and lawyers.

So what happens when a “church of the poor” becomes a “church of the middle-class”?

Well . . . for one thing, the poor stop coming to church. They stop coming, because it’s no longer “their” kind of place!

That’s one reason Ellen White wrote against jewelry; she didn’t want the poor to feel out of place in our churches. That’s why she wrote against classical music; she wanted a church where anyone could feel at home. That’s why she wrote against bicycles; at the time, they were an outrageous example of conspicuous consumption (kind of like Hummers today).

In short, Ellen White was smart enough to know that money talks . . . and sometimes, what it really tells people is, “Go away!”

So how do we avoid that?

And what do we do when the "economic escalator" has done its work, and we've become solid members of the middle-class?

That's what this week's lesson is all about.

Pastor Greg

And remember: “Anytime somebody says, ‘it’s not the money – it’s the principle of the thing,’ it’s really the money” – Anonymous.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

The DaVinci Cartoon

Walt Disney movies are part of an international conspiracy — a conspiracy that is nearly 2,000-years-old.

At least, that’s what Dan Brown wants you to believe. In his best-selling book, The Da Vinci Code, Brown argues that the Jesus of the Gospels is a fake — a literary fraud concocted by Emperor Constantine back in AD 325.

But Brown believes he has discovered the truth — a truth kept alive by a small band of heroes such as Leonardo da Vinci. Isaac Newton. Victor Hugo.

And yes, Walt Disney.

As a result, many people who’ve read Brown’s book have been left wondering if maybe — just maybe — Brown might be on to something?

Maybe Jesus did get married?

Maybe his descendants did go on to become the kings of France?

And maybe Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs really does symbolize “the incarceration of the sacred feminine”?

Maybe.

Though the character that really comes to mind here is Goofy.

Take Brown’s statement that our New Testament was more or less “invented” by the Emperor Constantine.

Thanks to letters and sermons from the second-century — and that’s almost two hundred years before Constantine — we know that believers back then were using the same four Gospels that we do today.

They were using the same 13 letters of Paul that we do today.

And they were using all the other books in the New Testament that we do today — even though it did take awhile before every church agreed to use books such as Hebrews and Revelation.

What’s more, we have manuscripts of these New Testament books that go back to the second-century — and there’s no appreciable difference between them and the books you’ll find in your Bible today.

In short, The Da Vinci Code may be a best-seller.

But when it comes to church history, it’s purely Mickey Mouse.

Pastor Greg

And remember: When people doubt God, they don't believe in nothing; they'll believe in anything" -- G. K. Chesteron.

The Land of Battered Women

Click on the title, and read the article in Thursday's New York Times.

Now that you’ve read the article, imagine that you’re a pastor in Africa. Several women in your church have asked you for advice on how to deal with this problem. What kind of advice would you give – both short-term and long-term?

How might this advice differ from that given to a woman living in the United States? Why?

How would the advice you gave your African church members differ from that given by Paul in Ephesians 5:21-6:9? How would it be the same? Why?

How might you apply Paul’s advice to American families today – or is our situation so different that it is simply irrelevant?

In short, how to you follow Jesus in a family that is not ideal?

Pastor Greg

And remember: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” – Leo Tolstoi, in Anna Karenina.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Goodies from the new health plan

Check out ibxpress.com to find out about all the new goodies that come with our new health plan -- goodies such as:
  • $150 reimbursement on your health club membership.
  • $200 reimbursement on Weight Watchers or a hospital weight-loss program.
  • $25 reimbursement on CPR training.
  • And up to 40% off on alternative health care products (such as massage therapy or nutritional counseling).

And yes, you could also get up to $200 back for the costs of giving up smoking!

Pastor Greg

And remember: "When it comes to health, you need to check your facts carefully -- many's the man who died of a misprint" -- Mark Twain.

Friday, August 05, 2005

And by the way . . .

The companion book to this lesson is Robert Johnston's The Spiritual Life: Experiencing Jesus Christ as Lord. It's not too late to get a copy from the ABC -- and it's well worth it!

Who listens when God prays?

And his disciples came unto him and said, “Teach us to pray.”

And he said, “Why?”

And they said, “Well . . . uh . . . all the other rabbis are teaching their disciples how to pray.”

“So go ask them – and besides, you have 150 psalms, not to mention the Eighteen Benedictions that you recite in the synagogue every Sabbath. It’s not as though you lack for examples!”

“Yes, but when you pray, things happen. We want to pray so that things happen too!”

And he did close his eyes, and sigh – and after he had done so, he did begin teaching his disciples to pray as follows: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

And his disciples did stop him and say, “Excuse me? Does it have to be all about Him?”

“No,” he said, “there’s more. ‘Give us today our daily bread.’”

“That’s it?”

“You want more?”

“Let’s be honest,” said his disciples unto him. “You’re not going to sell many books on prayer if all it gets you is the bare minimum to survive. No, we’re looking for something more; we’re looking for a little something extra. You know – a little jam on the bread.”

“Okay, how about ‘Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors’?”

“Love the first part; hate the second. Try again.”

“Maybe something along the lines of, ‘And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one’?”

“There’s no need to be sarcastic – and besides, this whole prayer is just way too negative.”

“Negative?”

“You know what I mean. ‘God, it’s all about you – not me. I don’t ask for much, but I do need a break; right now, in fact, I could use all the help I can get.’ I mean, what kind of a prayer is that?!? ”

And he did smile and say, “the same kind I pray every day.”

Pastor Greg

And remember: "You can do more than pray after you have prayed. But you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed" -- John Bunyan.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

A Dr's Care

So you’ve come to that part of the baptismal class where you talk about health . . . but you’re not sure how to pull things together in a way that makes sense.

And yes, you could use the acronym NEWSTART® – i.e. nutrition, exercise, water, sunshine, temperance, air, rest, and trust in God – but it’s a trademark; it’s not something you should use unless you’re referring specifically to the lifestyle program that is offered by Weimar College.

That’s why I ask people to take care of themselves with a Dr’s Care. That means they’ve a better chance of living a long, healthy life if they are:

Drug-free: that mean no DDT (i.e. drugs, drinking, or tobacco).
Rested: 7-9 hours of sleep every night.
Safe: use seat-belts in the car, life-jackets on the water, and don’t run with scissors.

Clean: wash your hands, brush your teeth, and don’t forget to floss.
Active: exercise 30-minutes a day, three to four days a week.
Religious: it’s true – church members do live longer!
Eating right: more fruits and vegetables, less fast-food and junk-food . . . and yes, this is where we talk about “clean and unclean.”

I’ve been using a Dr’s Care in my baptismal classes for five-years now; I’ve found it works well with kids and adults. Try it, and see if it doesn’t work for you!

Pastor Greg

And remember: “No one ever changes their mind about anything; there are just more people who think the new way” – Adam Gopnik.

Monday, July 25, 2005

FAQs

Here are some of the questions that have come up about this blog:

Why are you doing this?
This may come as a surprise, but I have a lot of opinions, and I enjoy sharing them.

How long does it take to run your blog?
I spend roughly an hour on my day-off. (More than that, and I figure that it's turning into a substitute for reality.)

How much does it cost you to run a blog?
Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zero. It's free.

Why would someone let you post a blog at no cost?
I don't know. I think it has something to do with Google's plans to take over the world, but I'm not sure.

You said something that was really stupid, and somebody needs to set the record straight before millions of innocent people are hopelessly misled.
Fine. Each "article" has a line at the bottom that tells you how many comments have been posted in response to it. If you'd like to read the posts, just click on that line. If you'd like to respond yourself, just click on the line, and add your comment to the list.

I tried to respond to one of your articles, but nothing happened.
Send me an e-mail. (I'm not going to post it here, but it's in the Conference directory. Go look.)

How can I start my own blog?
Click on the orange-and-white logo for Powered by Blogger, and it will walk you through the directions. All told, it should take you no more than 15-minutes to be up and running.

Pastor Greg

And remember: "The best way to predict the future is to make it happen yourself" -- Allen Kaye.

You CAN handle the truth

If Richard Nixon had told the truth, he’d still be President of the United States.

He’d be dead, but he’d still be President.

And that’s the point of this week’s lesson – that what you say you did can get you in more trouble than what you actually did.

Politicians know this. So do lawyers, used-car salesmen, and the people who used to run Enron. They all know how words can build trust – or break it.

More than that, they all know that our words show two things at one and the same time:

  • how much we trust other people.
  • how much we can be trusted.

Let’s say that I’m trying to sell you a car, for instance. It’s not a bad car – in fact, it belonged to my brother-in-law, who was meticulous in the way he took care of it. Then again, he did use it to tow a trailer . . . and that can be hard on a car.

So what do I do? Do I trust you with the information you need to make a good decision?

Or do I go with Jack Nicholson. Tell myself that “you can’t handle the truth.” And say that it was owned by a little old lady who only drove it to church?

The same is true of gossip, perjury, slander, and all the other ways that we get in trouble with the words that we use. Most of them boil down to the issue of trust – do they build it, or destroy it?

And that was the problem with Richard Nixon. For when all was said and done, Watergate really was nothing more than a third-rate burglary.

But when it came to what he said about Watergate . . . well, that is when people finally decided that Nixon might be smart. He might be hard-working. He might even have good ideas.

But there was just no way you would ever buy a used-car from that man.

Pastor Greg

And remember: “Truth is stranger than fiction, but not as popular" -- anonymous.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Be an expert -- or just look like one!

HMS Richards used to say that every pastor should be an expert in something – even if it didn’t always seem very practical. We can all see why a pastor might want to know a lot about the Book of Romans, for instance . . . but Russian literature?!?

Then again, if you are an expert in baseball, then you can probably come up with all kinds of examples of the times this helped you in your ministry – in sermon illustrations, for instance, or the ability to relate to the spouse of a church member.

The same is true of almost any topic: the Book of Romans. Islam. NASCAR. The Trinity. Astronomy. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And yes, maybe even who’s who in the world of Russian literature. Just pick a subject, and see if it doesn’t turn into a window on the world for your ministry.

And the good news is that it’s not that hard to be a “good enough” expert in almost any field. A good rule-of-thumb is that anyone who reads ten books on a topic probably knew more than 90-percent of the people out there – and if you read for just ten-minutes a day, then you can read ten books in a year’s time.

So pick a topic. Give it ten-minutes a day. And see the difference it makes in just one year’s time!

Pastor Greg

And remember: “A conclusion is the place where you get tired of thinking” – Alexander Matz.

More!

It’s the first wedding this particular pastor has performed, and he’s a little nervous. But so far, everything’s gone well. The vows have been made. The rings exchanged. And with the end in sight, the minister says, “I now pronounce you husband and wife!”

And then he freezes. He knows he’s supposed to say something else, but he can’t think what it is.

“I now pronounce you husband and wife . . .”

Freezes again. The crowd begins to stir.

Finally, he blurts out the first thing that comes to mind: “I now pronounce you husband and wife – go, and sin no more!”

Okay, it’s not a true story – it’s not even a very funny story.

But it illustrates a point you’ll need to make in this week’s lesson, and that is the nature of desire.

People who aren’t married have pretty much the same desires as the people who are – yet the same behavior we discourage in single people is encouraged in those who are married.

So what’s changed? Why is sexual desire so wrong when you’re single, and so right when you’re married?

The answer, of course, is that sexual desire isn’t wrong; it’s just not enough.

It was Augustine who noted that sin is really nothing more than a lack of something good in our life. Just as cold is the absence of heat, for instance, so too cowardice is the absence of courage, greed is the absence of charity, and anger marks the absence of patience and love.

Then too, even our virtues can steer us wrong if we lack other virtues as well. A soldier in battle needs courage, to give one example – but he needs wisdom as well. For courage without wisdom is foolhardy, just as wisdom without courage gives us all the more reason to be cowards!

In short, our problem isn’t the things we want so much as it is the things we lack. For sexual desire is good (just as courage is good). But just like courage, it’s not enough by itself; just like courage, it works best when something more is added. Something like love. And commitment. And integrity.

And yes, sometimes even a sense of humor.

Pastor Greg

And remember: “God, my heart is too small. Make it bigger!” – Augustine of Hippo.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

In the beginning was the Word

It was a dark and stormy night.

Really.

My family was staying on the first-floor of the girl’s dormitory at Maple View Academy. We were there for Minnesota Campmeeting – and that night, there was a tornado watch.

Now my wife is from New Zealand; she had no idea what to do in case of a tornado.

But both my parents are from Kansas, and I’d grown up hearing stories about tornados – and if you’ve ever heard tornado stories, then you know they come in two, basic forms:

  • the siren went off, and they’d just made it to safety when the tornado hit.
  • the siren went off, and they didn’t make it to safety before the tornado hit.

And the moral of both stories, of course, is that you’d better not waste time when there’s a tornado around!

“Just grab a kid and go,” I told my wife. “The hallway outside our room is the designated shelter for this building; once we’re there, we’ll take stock and decide what to do next.”

With that, we went to sleep.

The next thing I knew, I was standing in the hallway outside our dormitory room, holding our eldest daughter. My wife was coming out of the room behind me, holding our youngest daughter, and closing the door to our room. And as she did so -- even as I was waking up -- I realized:

  • As soon as my wife closed that door, it would lock itself – and neither one of us had a key.
  • The hall was rapidly filling up with people. (This was the shelter for the whole dormitory, remember.)
  • And neither my wife nor myself was wearing anything more than we’d worn to bed that night – and it was a warm night!

In short, I’ve heard about pastors who’ve dreamt they were standing in front of an audience, wearing nothing but their underwear – but so far as I know, I am the only pastor who’s actually done it!

Now why did this happen? What made me to do something that modesty (and common sense) would normally have prevented?

Simple: it was the stories – stories I’d grown up hearing. Stories I’d grown up believing. Stories that shaped my life in ways I never could have imagined.

That’s why this week’s lesson is so important – for this week, we’re going to talk about the thoughts that shape the lives of our students. Not just the occasional daydream or fantasy, but the stories. The plots. The themes that give structure and meaning to their lives.

There are people in your class, for instance, who are trying to be The Little Engine That Could. Others see themselves as Huckleberry Finn. Still others who’ve spent their whole lives trying to find a happy ending for Romeo and Juliet.

So take the time, this week, to listen for the stories. Ask questions:

  • What was your favorite story as a child – and how did it shape your life?
  • If your life was a TV show, which one would it be?
  • How is the story of your life tied in with the story of Jesus?

And no, this is not just some vapid excuse to “get in touch with your own feelings.”

For stories are powerful, remember. Stories make a difference. And the person who believes in the wrong kind of stories is apt to find themselves in all kinds of trouble.

Even at Campmeeting.

Even in Minnesota.

Pastor Greg

And remember: “Values are rooted in narrative” – Harvey Cox.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

HIPPA hurray?

There’s a new joke going around the health-care industry. It goes like this:

“Knock knock.”

“Who’s there?”

“HIPPA.”

“HIPPA who?”

“I can’t tell you.”

That’s because HIPPA – the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 – makes it extremely difficult to share information about hospital patients. As a result, it can be tough for us to find out just what’s happening with a sick church member.

It wasn't always this way. When I began as a pastor:
  • the hospital would call to tell me I had a church member there.
  • church members who worked in the hospital would pass along anything they'd heard.
  • And Mrs. Schadenfreude (who was never sick herself, but loved to gossip) would be sure to call and fill me in on all the gory details!

No more! Thanks to HIPPA:

  • the hospital won’t tell me if a church member is there – not even if I call to ask!*
  • church members who work at the hospital can’t tell me anything.
  • And Mrs. Schadenfreude could be sued . . . even if she tried to disguise her gossip as a “prayer request” in church!

Now myself, I like HIPPA. I think people have a right to privacy – even if they’re sick. And I’ve found that I can still do my job as a pastor if I just:

  • remind church members over and over again to let me know if they (or someone in their family) is in the hospital.
  • ask the patient (or family) if I can share the news that this person is in the hospital – and if so, then who would they like me to tell and what would they like me to say?
  • Even if the patient (or family) gives me permission to spread the news, I should never say more than the simple fact that “such-and-such is in the hospital and is doing well” (or “is in serious condition,” or “is not expected to live.”) And yes, Mrs. Schadenfreude, this applies to “prayer requests” too!

But if people ask me “just exactly what’s wrong,” then I shrug my shoulders. I smile. And say, “Do I look like someone who would know the answer to that question?”

And remember: “When I pray, coincidences happen – but when I don’t, they don’t” – William Temple.

*By the way, you can still find out if a church member is in the hospital by calling and asking to speak with them. If the operator puts through your call, then you know they’re there . . . and there's nothing HIPPA can do about it!

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

July 3-9: Who sets your priorities?

Following God is like owning a dog.

Unfortunately, most of us would rather have a hamster.

And that’s what this week’s lesson is all about.

Over the years, you see, my children have cared for just about every kind of pet you can imagine: parakeets, lovebirds, hedgehogs, tropical fish, cats, hamsters, and a beagle who answers to the name of “Rosie” (though I generally call her “Booger”).

Now there’s no question that the easiest pet to own is definitely a hamster. Just add some food. Check the water. Change the bedding. And that’s it; you’re ready to go for another week.

But owning a dog – especially a beagle -- changes everything! As my wife says, “It’s like having a three-year-old who can run faster than you!” And just like a three-year-old, that dog affects everything – everything from the time you get up in the morning to where you go on vacation.

In short, you can buy a hamster, and still live pretty much the same life as you did before. But buy a dog, and you get a whole new life to go with it . . . whether you like it or not!

Likewise, many people in your class have some kind of connection with God. They know He exists. They believe He made us. And they like having Him around – if only for the sake of the children – just so long as He doesn’t start messing around with the rest of their lives!

But the kind of God you’ll be talking about in this week’s lesson . . . the kind of God who is revealed in Exodus 19 . . . the kind of God with whom Jesus struggled in the Garden of Gethsemane?

This is not a God who demands more!

No, this is a God who demands everything!

Then again, my dog is exactly the same. And if I’m willing to change my life for the sake of a 25-pound carnivore that snores . . .

Well, I’ll let you finish that sentence in this week’s Sabbath School lesson.

Pastor Greg

And remember: "If you don't know what is absolutely essential , then you'll waste all of your time doing those things that are merely important" -- Henri Nouwen.

Monday, July 04, 2005

So what do we do now?

The bad news is that this quarter's lessons are topical . . . which is another way of saying that you'll have to deal with teeny-tiny, itsy-bitsy pieces of Scripture that have been pasted together without any kind of context because they (supposedly) deal with a common topic.

The good news is that this quarter's topic is pretty good: spiritual growth, i.e. how to become the kind of person God wants you to be.

The bad news is that some of your class members have a pretty strange idea of just what kind of person God wants them to be -- and if you don't believe that, then ask them to describe what a "spiritual" person is like! Chances are, they'll tell you that a really spiritual person is:

  • an elderly female introvert
  • with no sense of humor
  • who wears really ugly clothes,
  • brings tofu to church potlucks,
  • and is none-too-bright.

And while I've nothing personally against people like that, I certainly wouldn't want to be someone like that.

The good news, of course, is that we can trust God's plans for us. "For I know the plans I have for you," He says in Jeremiah 29:11. "Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give [us] a hope and a future."

And learning how to make these plans come true over the course of our life -- that's what this quarter is all about.

Well . . . that's what this quarter can be all about -- but it's going to take some work.

Let's get started!

Pastor Greg

"From silly devotions and sour-faced saints, O Lord deliver us!" -- Teresa of Avila.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Strangers in a very strange land

It's hot. It's dusty. You're not eating right, sleeping right, or getting enough exercise -- and on top of it all, nobody has time to wash their hands.

Welcome to Campmeeting!

But with a little preparation, you can avoid a lot of the aches, pains, and bugs that plague many pastors during this week. All you need to do is pack:

1. Sunscreen (factor 30 or higher).
2. Chapstick (make sure it includes sunblock).
3. saline nasal spray (good for dealing with dust).
4. Visine (ditto).
5. cough drops (mega-ditto!)
6. water bottle (and wouldn't it be nice if the Conference gave away free bottles of cold drinking water to all pastors during the week?)
7. whistle (saves the voice when you're working in a children's division).
8. hand sanitizer (I carry a small bottle of Purell).

And if the pressure gets too much at the Oregon Campmeeting, just remember there's a Burgerville USA just ten minutes north on McLoughlin Boulevard -- and this is the week that they always sell Walla Walla Sweet Onion Rings!


Into the Wild Blue

Okay, so the paperwork is shuffling along nicely . . . but how do you make sure that you've not forgotten something important?

Myself, I've taken a tip from the Air Force, and divided my tasks between mission and base. Simply put, mission is the stuff that needs to happen; base is the stuff that makes it happen.

In the Air Force, the Mission Commander is in charge of everything that happens after a plane leaves the ground; he gets to worry about targets and tactics.

The Base Commander, on the other hand, gets to worry about housing, payroll, spare parts, and deciding whether the vending machines will stock Pepsi or Coke; he gets to worry about everything that happens before the plane leaves the ground.

Now when it comes to a church, the mission is clear:

  • Service -- programs that help the community (such as Community Services).
  • Nurture -- programs (such as Sabbath School) that help members grow spiritually.
  • Outreach -- Bible studies, public meetings, and other forms of evangelism.
  • Worship -- everything that happens in church on Sabbath morning.

Think SNOW, in other words, and you have the mission of your church. (And if your church runs an elementary school, then just think SNOWS.)

And when it comes to base -- the things you need in order to do the mission? That takes the 4Bs:

  • Bodies -- church officers you've recruited and trained.
  • Bucks -- as in money.
  • Buildings -- rented or owned, you need someplace to meet.
  • Bulletins -- and yes, this includes newsletters, webpages, blogs, and anything else you can use to get the word out.

So . . . which of the two is most important: mission or base?

Well, the mission comes first -- but it doesn't happen without a good base. That's why I take time every now and then to ask two questions:

  • how am I doing on mission? (Remember: think SNOWS.)
  • do I have the base I need for my mission? (And for that, of course, I need the 4Bs.)

And if I'm doing well in those two areas -- mission and base -- then I'm probably not forgotting anything too important.

This week's quote: "A good administrator knows how to deal with complexity. A good leader knows how to deal with change" -- William Willimon.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Self-licking ice cream cones

One thing that frustrates me about being a pastor -- it's the way I could easily spend all my time doing nothing more than "feeding the beast" i.e. managing budgets, reviewing policies, vetting volunteers . . . all the "administrivia" that comes back and bites you if you don't do it, but keeps me from doing the things I really enjoy.

Five things that help:

  1. A large wastebasket.
  2. Regular office hours (9 AM to noon, Tuesdays and Thursdays).
  3. A three-ring binder that contains all the policies, membership lists, budgets, etc. that I need for my district.
  4. File folders for each month of the year -- if somebody sends me something that I don't need to worry about until Campmeeting, for instance, it goes into the "July" file.
  5. A secretary with a blessedly high tolerance for boring, repetitive tasks (which is another way of saying "delegate, delegate, delegate").

And by the way -- if you really want to save some time, then get rid of your desk. I do all my "office work" at church while standing up . . . and believe me, that's a real incentive to get things done in a hurry!

So . . . how do you deal with paperwork? Let me know, and I'll add it to the blog.

This week's quote: "Wherever you are, be all there" -- Jim Elliot.