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.