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.