Thursday, March 30, 2006

Just another reason to reconsider that call to South Dakota

'Tis the Spring -- that time of year when the voice of the Ministerial director is heard throughout the land, and the calls to pastor another church doth begin to multiply and increase.

Well, yeah . . . and just to give you one more thing to think about, you can click on the title to this post for a quick, easy, and amazingly detailed comparison of the cost of living in just about anyplace you might think of living with wherever it is that you're living now.

Perhaps they should have read Joel Osteen's book?

So this researcher with the Harvard Medical School spends $2.4 million to study the effects of prayer on 1,800 heart patients . . . and the good news is that prayer does have some effect if the patients know you're praying for them.

The bad news is, they do worse.

Don't believe me? Click on the title of this post and read it for yourself.

And may the Friend be with you.

This week, you’ll find that a number of people in your Sabbath School class actually believe in magic.

And no, we’re not talking about the Harry Potter fans (though there’s certainly enough of those characters out there).

We’re talking about the way they view the Holy Spirit.

At the heart of magic, remember, is the idea that the world is saturated with some kind of mystical “energy.” Call it anima. Call it mana. Call it The Force, or whatever you like – the belief remains that all this spiritual “juice” or “electricity” is there, just waiting to be used.

And if you know how to use it – if you’ve learned the right passwords, know all the proper access codes, and have figured out how to bypass the safety systems that are meant to protect mere ordinary mortals -- then you can this Force to do pretty much anything you want.

And that’s what witches (and wizards and shamans and medicine men and Jedi Knights) claim to do, remember. Take away the “woo-woo” stuff, and they’re basically just “spiritual electricians” . . . mystical technicians who think they’ve learned how to manipulate a special kind of energy – that’s all.

Now let’s be honest: how different is that then the way we often view the Holy Spirit?

And how different is that then the way we often try to use the Holy Spirit?

You’ve been to the seminars, after all. You’ve read the books. You’ve heard speakers talk about how we can “get” the Holy Spirit. Just say the right words, read the right texts, practice the right techniques . . . AND ALL THIS POWER CAN BE YOURS!


But if the Holy Spirit is a person (and not just some kind of magical, mystical, ethereal force that kicks in whenever Yoda can use a little extra help), then all these seminars on how to “get” the Holy Spirit are kind of like those books that promise to reveal the “secrets” of how to meet women (and get them to do what you want). They’re insulting, in other words. They’re ineffective. And they’re downright pathetic . . .

Because they forget that we’re talking about a real person.

So . . . my advice for this week’s lesson: don’t try to prove the “divinity” of the Holy Spirit. (And don’t get bogged down in a long, involved discussions of the Trinity!) No, just focus on the fact that the Holy Spirit is a person, and everything else will follow from there.

Well, it certainly works for him

God wants to make you rich -- and if you need proof of that, consider this article in The New York Times. (And do I need to keep telling you to click on the title of this post in order to link with it?) It seems that Joel Osteens's last book on "the gospel of prosperity" has already sold three million copies . . . and he just got a $13 million advance from Simon & Schuster for his next book. (And for his third book in the series, he's going to tell us why Job's friends were right after all.)

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Kosher cell phones?

Myself, I'm beginning to think that cell phones are a form of demonic possession . . . but click on the title of this post for an article in the Wall Street Journal on some of the ways people have found to make their religion go wireless.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Dealing with DaVinci

The DaVinci Code will be coming out soon as a movie -- and if you're like me, you're already getting questions about it.

Click on the title of this post for a link with an article in The Christian Science Monitor about all the ways different Christian groups plan to deal with the questions raised by this movie. (Some are even seeing it as an evangelistic tool -- go figure!)

Thursday, March 23, 2006

A real God for real people (part 2)

It's the end of the quarter, and time to apply some of the ideas you've been talking about. That's why I've adapted an earlier blog for this week's lesson -- see what you can do with it!

Click on the title, and read the article in The New York Times about the problem of battered women in a very traditional society. (If they ask you to register, go ahead and do it -- it's free.)

Now that you’ve read the article, imagine you’re a pastor in that part of the world. Several women in your church have asked you for advice on how to deal with this problem.

  • What kind of advice would you give – both short-term and long-term? How might this advice differ from that given to a woman living in the United States? Why?
  • How would the advice you gave church members in a traditional society differ from that given by Paul in Ephesians 5:21-6:9? How would it be the same? Why?
  • Does Paul spend more time talking about the duties of wives to their husbands, or the duties of husbands to their wives? Why? What does this suggest about his priorities?
  • How might you apply Paul’s advice to American families today – or is our situation so different that it is simply irrelevant? How much of Paul's advice in these verses is a "timeless principle," and how much of it is an application of that principle to a particular situation in a specific time and place?

In short, how do you follow Jesus in a family that is not ideal?

Friday, March 17, 2006

In the end, it's still the Word.

Know what's really hot in New York City?

People on stage, talking. (Really! Click on the title for a link to the article -- and if it wasn't true, then it wouldn't be in The New York Times, right?)

So . . . if the New York Public Library can pack them in for lectures, then maybe the Sabbath-morning sermon is ready for a comeback?

Is the M.Div. the new M.B.A.?

Seminary enrollments are up -- but the number of students who plan to make a career in the pastorate is down. Click on the title for an article in The New York Times that explains why more and more people want to work for God . . . but don't want to work for a church.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

A real God for real people

On any given Sabbath, roughly three-fourths of the adults in church will be women.

Think what that means for a Sabbath School lesson on families.

If your church is like mine, as a matter of fact, the biggest single group of people in your church will be single women – widowed, divorced, or never-married.

Think what that means for a Sabbath School lesson on families.

In short, most of the people in your class this week will not measure up to the traditional “ideal” of a married couple with two lovely children (and a dog named “Spot”) who all go to church every week (and help out with Pathfinders on Wednesday night). And all through this quarter’s lessons, they’ve been wondering just exactly what God thinks of people in their situation.

Think of what that means for a Sabbath School lesson on families – and the chance it gives you to point out how God can work with us in any situation.

I Corinthians 7:8-9
What advice does Paul give to singles in these verses? What reasons does Paul give in verses 32-35 as to why might it be better for some to stay single? Can you think of other reasons why this might be the case? What reason does Paul give for getting married? Single or married -- what advice would Paul give to all believers?

I Corinthians 7:10-16
What advice does Paul give to someone whose spouse is not a Christian? Why might some think they should get a divorce? Why does Paul discourage this? What are some of the ways a Christian can “sanctify” (or make holy) the other members of their family?

I Corinthians 7:17-40
Skim these verses quickly, and notice how often Paul says something to the effect of “each one should remain as they are now.” What specific examples of this principle does Paul give? Is Paul saying that we should never do anything to improve our lot in life?

Many times, we like to daydream about all the ways our life could be better. “If only I had married somebody else,” we say. “If only I had a better job, or a nicer car, or children who really appreciated all I had done for them.” How helpful is this kind of thinking? What danger does it pose? What advice would Paul give to someone who is daydreaming like this – and what advice would he give to you today?

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

House churches

Click on the title for a good, balanced article in Time on the house-church movement. The pluses: intimacy, authenticity, and low cost. The downside: sometimes the crazies take over. (Think "David Koresh.") And what the article doesn't mention is something that's a problem with any small group -- it's great for the adults, but what do you do with the kids?

Monday, March 13, 2006

The best book ever written about the ministry

I'm not a youth pastor.

And I've been a pastor way longer than two years.

But Doug Field's book, Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry, is the best I've ever read on being a pastor.


Doug is the youth pastor at the Saddleback Church in southern California (and yes, he's written a book called Purpose Driven Youth Ministry). But don't let that scare you. Your First Two Years won't leave you feeling depressed and inadequate. Instead, it's like having a cup of (decaf) coffee with your best friend from seminary as the two of you chew over what's been happening this past week.

And yes, even rapidly aging Senior pastors (like me) will appreciate Doug's advice. Take, for instance, the fifth of his Ten Essentials for Minstry: "I will avoid the comparison trap." Think about that one the next time someone you know gets called to a bigger church than the one you're currently pastoring!

So stop whatever you're doing. Drop whatever you're reading. Click on to the title of post -- it will take you straight to the Amazon web-page for Doug's book -- and BUY THIS BOOK IMMEDIATELY!

Got that done?

Then the next time you're in Lincoln City, drop by and we'll talk about Doug's book.

I'll even buy the coffee.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Teach your children well

As a rule of thumb, roughly two-thirds of all kids drop out of church just as soon as they get out there on their own.

Adventists, Baptists, Catholics – makes no difference; we all lose about two-thirds of our young adults.

But roughly half of those kids who left will end up back in church. And most of those who do come back will do so for one, simple reason: they now have children of their own.

No, most people want their children to grow up right. So they sign-up their children for piano lessons, and they drive their children to swim practice, and they work two jobs so they can afford to live in a place that has good schools . . .

And they even show up in church with their families in tow, willing to put up with the archaic music and the boring sermons and the incomprehensible doctrines if that’s what it takes to raise good kids.

So be careful with this week’s lesson. You may think you’re “just” discussing how we can pass along our values and beliefs to our children (and grandchildren).

But for some of your class members, you’ll actually be talking about the only reason they’re really in church.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9
1. What command does God give in verses 4-6? Why is this important when it comes to passing on your values to your children? What are some of the ways in which your children reflect the “loves” (and the hatreds) they’ve seen in your life? What happens when you try to pass on values that aren’t really important to the way you live?

2. What principle does God give in verse 7 – and what are some the examples given in verses 7-9 of this principle in action? What are some of the ways that you can demonstrate your beliefs and values to your children in everyday life? What are some of the advantages of sharing your faith in this way . . . and what (if any) are the weaknesses?

3. What kind of help do you need in putting Deuteronomy 6:4-9 into practice? Where can you go in finding this help? What kind of help does your church provide – and how can it be more helpful?

Note: some of your class-members will be grandparents, trying to pass along their faith to grandchildren whose parents will have nothing to do with church. How does Deuteronomy 6:4-9 speak to their concerns?

Thursday, March 02, 2006

When bad families happen to good people

As a rule of thumb, I won’t do a wedding for any couple unless they’ve had at least one big fight.

That’s because I don’t think you really know anyone until you know just exactly what it is that really, really irritates you about them.

And if you can still love someone who really, really irritates you . . . well, then you have a marriage.

Or for that matter, a church.

That’s why I’d suggest you spend some time discussing I Corinthians 13 with your class. Paul did not write this chapter to people starry-eyed in love and happy to be with each other. No, he wrote this particular chapter to a church full of people who were hostile, ambitious, and bitterly divided by envy.

Kind of like some families I know.

And if you can figure out how Paul would bring these people together, then maybe you can do the same for some of the families in your class.

I Corinthians 13:1-3
Every group has certain expectations – and in these verses, Paul lists some of the behaviors that would be highly valued in any church, i.e. speaking in tongues, prophecy, faith, generosity, and martyrdom. What kind of behavior is expected (and valued) in your group? In your family? Is it possible to do these things without love? What is the result.

I Corinthians 13:4-7
What does Paul say love is? Which of these characteristics do you have the most trouble practicing? Why is that? What does Paul say love is not? Which if these characteristics do you have the most trouble avoiding? Why is that?

I Corinthians 13:8-12
Paul says that prophecy, speaking in tongues, and knowledge are not our ultimate goals, but merely means to an end. Why is that? What does he say should be our ultimate goal? How can we avoid confusing “means” and “goals”? Why does Paul suggest that humility is important?

I Corinthians 13:13
Paul ends this chapter with a list of there “ultimate values” for a Christian. Why are these three all important to a healthy family? To a healthy church? How can you encourage these values in your family? In your church? And of these three values, why did Paul focus on love?

General reflection
If "love never gives up," does that mean you should never give up on a relationship? If "love endures all things," does that mean you should put up with anything and everything in a relationship?

Rebel with a cross

They're young. On the edge. And deeply committed to Jesus. But as The New York Times reports, the current proliferation of Christian groups that are into Goth, hip-hop, and alt-rock may owe more to marketing than genuine rebellion.

With God on our side

Interesting article in the Washington Post about the impact of evangelical Christians on Bush's foreign policy. The big "winners" so far: Darfur, AIDS in Africa, and religious liberty.