Monday, March 31, 2008

Old sermons don't count

Looking for an Earth Day project?

Try cleaning up the toxic waste at your church.

Last Sunday's workbee in Lincoln City revealed we have a collection of pesticides, solvents, paints, and cleaning agents that goes back 50-years. Not only is this stuff a fire hazard, but some of it is genuinely bad news for the environment -- bad enough that we can't just throw it away.

The good news: with Earth Day coming up, our local recycling center is waiving its usual fees for disposing of some products.

So here's my advice:
  1. Check out your church's closets.
  2. Make a list of the toxic treasures you find.
  3. Then call your local landfill or sanitary district, and ask how you can safely get rid of these things for Earth Day.

Friday, March 28, 2008

This week's Sabbath School lesson: the call to compassion

So I'm listening to NPR's Fresh Air from WHYY -- and Terry Gross is talking with Pico Iyer about his new book on the Dalai Lama.

Cool.

And one of the things they're talking about is the fact that the Dalai Lama is loved by a lot of people -- even people who would disagree with his views on:
  • homosexuality (he's against it),
  • divorce (he's against it),
  • and the use of both alcohol and illicit drugs. (Surprise! He's against this too!)
"Hmmmm . . . " says I to myself. "Most of Terry's listeners would go ballistic if James Dobson said something like this -- so how come the Dalai Lama gets away with it?"

Good question -- and the answer (according to Terry and Pico) is that the Dalai Lama is nice -- so nice that people don't seem to mind when he steps on their toes.

And there you have the point of this week's lesson -- it's the fact that Christ's disciples should have high standards, and preach the truth, and do a lot of other things that the people who listen to Fresh Air on WHYY would find terribly obnoxious . . .

If only we weren't so nice.

So compassionate.

And so Christ-like.

Just like the Dalai Lama.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

On your mark, get set . . .

If you're thinking this might be the year to make a move, then now is the time to start getting ready. Some suggestions:

Pray.

Given the random and arbitrary nature of the process, it's easy to stress about pastoral placement. That's why you need to remember Who Is In Charge of It All -- and there's no better way to do that than prayer. So talk with God. Be specific and honest -- and don't be afraid to tell Him about those grandiose ambitions you've never dared to share with anyone else. (Just be prepared to listen too!)

Talk over the idea of moving with your spouse -- and listen to what she says.

This is the best way I know to clarify motives, establish priorities, and find gaps in logic. When I was looking over some calls last year, for instance, my wife pointed out that:
a) moving just before our daughter's Senior year in high school was not a good idea.
b) moving in the middle of a building project was not a good idea.
c) moving a long ways from my parents (who are certainly not getting any younger) was something I've repeatedly said would not be a good idea.
Granted, I might have figured out this on my own -- but my wife certainly sped up the process.

Establish your "deal-breakers."
Flexibility is good, but you need to be honest about the things you're not ready to handle at this time. In my case, that means "not too far from my parents" and "no more building projects." In your case, that may mean "must have an elementary school" or "not more than four churches in the district."

Look in the mirror.
Sad but true -- nothing says "loser" to a search committee like someone who needs to lose 20-pounds. If you've been meaning to start exercising and eating right, in other words, now would be a good time. And yes, this is also a good time to update your wardrobe.

Brush up your resume.
To be honest, most search committees won't depend on this nearly so much as they do on word of mouth -- but it's good to be ready, just in case. (For ideas on how to do this, click here.) Then too, there's nothing like a quick review of where you've been to suggest where you might like to go from here.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Ever onward

Posts have been sparse of late -- I'm blaming extreme busyness (i.e. our church ran a CHIP, I had a sermon to write for the "Beyond the Bottom Line" conference in San Diego, I'm still teaching two sections of Bible at our local SDA high school, and the dog had knee surgery).

But with Spring Break here, I'm hoping to spend more time with the blog -- and for starters, check out Gary Land's Historical Dictionary of Seventh-day Adventists; thanks to Google, it's free!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

This week's Sabbath School lesson: sharing the call

[Jesus said to his disciples,] "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" -- Matthew 28:18-20, NIV.
Most religions are like the Portland Trailblazers: they're a local thing.

That's why you don't see the Hopi going door to door, inviting their Navajo neighbors to forsake the Hero Twins for the worship of Kokopelli. No, this would be like 'Blazer fans proselytizing in Seattle; it goes against the popular assumption that "to each his own" -- and just so long as the Lakers don't make it into the playoffs, then everybody is cool with that.

Likewise, most of your class members have found some way to accommodate the differing beliefs of their friends, neighbors, and co-workers. "It's not what I believe," they'll say in effect, "but it seems to work for them. So . . . it's all good."

And yes, that certainly seems tolerant and open-minded.

The trouble comes when we run into someone whose indigenous beliefs are intolerable -- someone who has been raised to believe there is nothing wrong with slavery. Or child marriage. Or female circumcision.

(And if you don't believe such people exist, then you need to get out more!)

It's these people who test the limits of our tolerance -- and it's these people who lead us to believe there are some things that everyone, everywhere, should believe and practice at all times.

That's what you'll discuss in today's lesson -- the question of when you let it slide, and when you take a stand.

No, just because you're a fan of the 'Blazers, that doesn't mean everybody has to be a fan of the 'Blazers.

But when it comes to rooting for the Lakers . . . then sometimes, you need to draw a line.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

This week's Sabbath School lesson: fumbling the call

"Do not say, 'Why were the old days better than these?' For it is not wise to ask such questions" -- Ecclesiastes 7:10, NIV.
Few myths are more popular than that of a "Golden Age," i.e. the myth of a time long-ago, when all the women were strong, all the men were good-looking, and all the children knew how to behave themselves in church.

But in this week's lesson, we learn that God's people have always behaved badly. Even the apostles were not always saints -- and at times, their behavior sounds less like the Beatitudes than like a catalog of the Seven Deadly Sins:
  • When Christ fed the five thousand, for instance, John 6 suggests the Twelve backed the crowd's attempt to make Jesus a king by force.
  • In Luke 9, they wanted Jesus to call down fire from heaven on a Samaritan village.
  • John 12 tells us how the disciples criticized Mary's care for Jesus; in the process, one of the disciples is revealed to be a thief.
  • And when Jesus was arrested, John 18 says Peter denied ever following Jesus -- and he did so three times!
In short, there is hardly a sin in the church today that you won't find in its Golden Age of the Apostles -- and as a teacher, that leaves you with two options:
  • You can use this lesson to discuss Things We Should Not Do.
  • You can use this lesson to discuss God's love, even for people who do bad things.
Which of the two you emphasize will depend on the needs of your class. If your class is full of psychotics, after all, they may need a check on their behavior; if your class is full of neurotics, they may need some encouragement.

But in either case, your class needs to understand that God's love and power is not confined to some mythical Golden Age of the past.

No, the God of yesterday is still the God of today.

And God's people needed Him yesterday just as much as we do today.