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.