Thursday, February 28, 2008

This weeks's Sabbath School lesson: called to serve

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2: 1-11, NIV).

Writing to a church marked by quarrels and power-struggles, Paul quotes a hymn -- a hymn about Christ's kenosis (or "emptying"). "Just as Christ set aside everything that kept him from serving God," says Paul, "so we should set aside everything that keeps us from serving each other."

It's this kenosis you'll be discussing in this week's lesson. Most of us have no problem with the idea of service, after all; it's just that we have a long list of reasons why we can't put this idea into practice at this time.

"I'm busy enough as it is," we say. "Besides -- I've already done my time. I'm suffering from burn-out. And isn't there something more important that I could be doing?"

No, we'll always have an excuse not to serve -- a good excuse, a legitimate excuse, an excuse that lets us off the hook every time.

Think of what happened, for instance, when somebody had to wash the feet of Christ's disciples. And yes, it needed to be done . . . but it could not be done without a serious loss of face; washing feet was so degrading that even a slave could not be told to do it -- not if that slave was Jewish.

So the disciples hemmed, and they hawed, and they muttered about their bad backs and their arthritis and their lumbago that had been acting up lately . . .

Until Jesus went ahead and did it himself.

That's the kind of God we serve -- and that's the way he wants us to serve others too.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

This week's Sabbath School lesson: the waiting disciple

Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. . . . So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. . . . Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour" (Matthew 24: 42 & 44, 25:13, NIV).
Once again, the Quarterly gives us a grab-bag of incidents from the life of Christ, held together by only the vaguest of themes.
  • Jesus is the Bread of Life (John 6:43-58).
  • Jesus blesses little children (Matthew 18:-14).
  • The Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-13).
  • The Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24 & 25).
  • Jesus tells his followers to bear their cross with him (Mark 8:27-30).
And once again, you'll probably want focus on one of these stories, rather than try to cover all five.

Now if you don't have a lot of time to prepare a Sabbath School lesson (and yes, Karl, I'm talking to you), I'd suggest you go with the Olivet Discourse, i.e. the sermon in which Christ tells his disciples how to prepare for the Judgment. That's because these chapters are both familiar and mysterious:
  • They are familiar enough that almost every member of your class will feel they have something to contribute to the discussion.
  • But they are mysterious enough that almost every member of your class will feel they need to learn more.
Then too, these chapters involve prophecy -- and that's always fun!

Now in chapter 24, Jesus discusses two events: the Fall of Jerusalem (i.e. "these things"), and the Judgment (i.e. "that day").
  • The first took place in AD 70, the second will take place at a time known only to God.
  • The first can be predicted by carefully watching "the signs"; the second cannot -- it will be completely unexpected.
  • The first can be survived only through immediate flight; the second requires us to always be ready, watchful, and prepared.
Having said we need to be ready, Jesus tells us how to do this in chapter 25.
  • In the Parable of the Talents, he tells us to use the gifts God gave us.
  • And in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, he tells us to use these gifts for the good of others.
In short, the Olivet Discourse provides a kind of User's Guide to the Apocalypse. It tells us how to make it through tough times in the future -- and it does so by reminding us to help others through their tough times today. As Ellen White said in The Ministry of Healing: "The faithful discharge of today's duties is the best preparation for tomorrow's trials."

I miss the future!

Hat-tip to boingboing for its link to postcards from the 1962 Seattle World's Fair.

I attended the fair when I was five-years-old; I remember being awed and fascinated by its predictions of "Life in the 21st-century" -- predictions of a world in which:
  • people traveled to work by monorail,
  • dined on synthetic protein,
  • and thought purple, orange, and turquoise were all perfectly normal colors to paint a house.
Sigh.

Years later, I attended a church conference that was held just a few blocks from the site of the fair -- a conference in which a famous futurist confidently predicted just exactly what the next few decades had in store for us all.

Nobody else caught the irony.

(Click on the title of this post for a link to the postcards.)

Friday, February 15, 2008

This week's Sabbath School lesson: spiritual growth

"Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" -- Matthew 5:48, NIV.
Up till now, the quarterly has been talking about the call to discipleship; now it moves on to the process of being a disciple. If the decision to follow Jesus is like a wedding, in other words, we're now talking about the marriage itself.

Unfortunately, this week's lesson doesn't offer much in the way of definitely guidance -- a few references to the Sermon on the Mount, a quick glance at the appointment of the apostles, a brief mention of Christ's commission to the Seventy . . . in short, nothing much on which to build a lesson plan for your class.

So . . . you have a choice:
  • You can review the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).
  • You can review the appointment of the apostles (Mark 3:1-12).
  • You can review Christ's commission of the Seventy (Luke 10:1-23).
And in each case, you can try to determine what are the timeless principles in these verses that are meant for all disciples everywhere, and what are contingent principles meant for that specific time and place alone.

Then again, you might want to take a look at the life of one, specific disciple -- a disciple like Peter. First, review his call to be a disciple. Then discuss all the ways in which he grew and changed as a disciples:
  • his walking on the water (and subsequent failure)
  • his recognition of Jesus as the Christ (and subsequent failure).
  • his attempt to defend Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (and subsequent failure).
  • his ministry to the Gentiles (and subsequent failure) . . .
Well, you get the idea. And as you study Peter's life, you may want to discuss with your class the question: At what point in his life would you say that Peter was "converted"? What does this say about conversion -- and what does this say about the process of discipleship?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Birthday!

Today is Oregon's 149th birthday -- and if you need a reason to celebrate it, then click here for the Oregon Encyclopedia Project.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Dealing with Controversy

It seemed like a good idea at the time . . . but now the phone lines are buzzing, the battle-lines are forming, and the Conference is sending emails that assure you of its support.

In short, you have a major controversy developing in your church -- and that means you need to:
  • Keep the Conference informed. It doesn't take much -- just short, frequent emails that keep the Brethren up to date. (Otherwise, somebody else will set the agenda.)
  • Keep your elders informed. A quick, "heads-up" phone call before meetings can save you a world of grief. (Nobody likes surprises!)
  • Keep your people informed. Phone calls, bulletin announcements, emails, websites -- you need to get out the word in as many different ways as you possibly can. (That way, they can't say you "tried to keep it secret.")
  • Keep your secretary informed. Tell her what to say when people call for information. (Oddly enough, some people are more likely to believe your secretary than they are to believe you!)
Two more pieces of advice:
  • Write it down. Keep a log of your conversations with relevant people -- one in which you list when the conversation took place, what was said, and who was present. Otherwise, the question of "who said what and when?" can turn into a major issue.
  • Don't get mad. Nothing emboldens your opponents (and embarrasses your supporters ) faster than a public display of anger. No matter how righteous your indignation may be, in other words, you don't want to go there!

Friday, February 08, 2008

This week's Sabbath School lesson: loving the different

You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:43-48, NIV).
This week's lesson shouldn't be too controversial -- thanks to 50-years of the Civil Rights Movement, just about everyone should be willing to agree that racism is a sin. And most of your class members will be open to the idea (at least in theory) that God loves illegal immigrants just as much as He loves Americans.

But before you close this week's lesson by forming a circle, joining hands, and singing "Kumbaya," you might might want to ask what difference all this will make in the behavior of your class members. Who will they encounter in the next week, for instance, who is "different" -- and how can they reach out to that person with God's love?

And if they don't typically encounter people who are all that "different" . . . then what difference does this week's lesson really make?