Thursday, July 24, 2008

This week's Sabbath School lesson: Jesus of Nazareth

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 2:5-11, NIV.

"Eighty-percent of success," said Woody Allen, "is showing up."

Paul would agree. Writing to the church in Philippi, Paul quotes an already-familiar hymn about the kenosis -- about the way Jesus emptied himself in order to show up here on this earth.

To be sure, what happened after his arrival is the subject of almost infinite debate. When it comes to this week's lesson, for instance:
  • Some of your students will focus on Christ's life, others on his death.
  • Some will see Christ as our example, others as our sacrifice.
  • Some will emphasize sanctification, others justification.
But whatever their view of the atonement may be, your students should agree that it was impossible without the incarnation -- that in the deus ex machina of all time, God had to write Himself into the script of human history and live like any other person so that we might be saved . . .

And no, we may not agree about all the details of that "salvation."

But if we agree on the incarnation, then we're 80-percent there.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Portland City Center Sanctuary

Interested in tracking Dan George's attempt to start a new church in downtown Portland? Here's a link to his website.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

This week's Sabbath School lesson: Paul, the ad hoc missionary

Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them -- Acts 16:6-10, NIV.
Key to this week's lesson is the idea that Paul gives us a plan for effective evangelism -- and if we could just discover that plan and copy it, then we'd get the kind of results Paul did.

Mind you, that leaves open the question of just how much we'd really want the kind of results Paul enjoyed; as he pointed out to the church in Corinth:
Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. . . . In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands -- II Corinthians 11:24-33, NIV.
To put this in perspective -- imagine an outreach series in your church that concluded with a riot and the arrest of the visiting evangelist.

Would you call that a success?

But if Paul's results are problematic, so too is the idea that he's following some kind of plan. Consider his second missionary voyage, for instance -- the one to which I referred at the beginning of this post.
  • Paul wanted to travel with Barnabas -- but a quarrel led him to take Silas instead.
  • Paul wanted to visit Asia . . . but when that didn't work out, he tried to visit Bithynia . . . and when that didn't work out, he wound up in Troas instead.
  • Finally, when God did lead Paul to Macedonia, he was only able to stay a short time before opposition forced him to flee south.
In short, Paul's plans for this particular voyage soon went by the wayside; the result was something far more ad hoc and opportunistic than we sometimes credit him for.

When it comes to evangelism, in other words, Paul does not give us a plan so much as permission -- permission to make it up as we go along.

Is this scary? Yes.

Dangerous? Yes.

Will mistakes be made. Most certainly, yes.

But if Paul was willing to grab any opportunity God gave him -- even if it meant throwing his own plans out the window . . .

Yes, if no plan was good enough for Paul, then no plan should be good enough for us.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

I wonder how difficult it would be to find twelve guest speakers?

According to the NAD Calendar of Special Days, there are at least 27 Sabbaths that have been set aside to promote one worthy cause or another -- and presumably, each one comes complete with a worship kit and professionally-written sermon that's ready to preach.

Now add the four Sabbaths we set aside for Communion . . . the four I'm on vacation . . . the one where I'm gone at Campmeeting, and the Sabbaths that feature our Christmas Program, Easter Concert, and High School Baccalaureate . . .

And voila! I only need to write twelve sermons for the coming year!

Monday, July 07, 2008

Three questions

So it's campmeeting . . .

And you've just sat down in the cafeteria for another meal with your fellow pastors . . .

And you're tired of the usual gripes and complaints?

Try one of these three conversation starters:
  1. How has your ministry changed in the last five years?
  2. What part of your ministry really excites you right now?
  3. How do you see your ministry changing in the next five years?

Thursday, July 03, 2008

This week's Sabbath School lesson: Paul the Missionary

After that, [Jesus] appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me -- I Corinthians 15:6-10, NIV.

No one was better qualified to work with Gentiles.

And no one was worse.

For as this week's lesson points out, Paul was uniquely suited to carry the gospel to the Roman Empire.
  • He was a Roman citizen.
  • He spoke fluent Greek.
  • He'd been trained in both apologetics and Biblical interpretation by one of the finest teachers of his day.
Yet mission service was not a logical step for Paul -- far from it! No, as this week's lesson also points out:
  • Paul opposed Christianity.
  • He persecuted its followers.
  • And even after his conversion, Paul was hated and mistrusted by many in the church.
In short, we can see Paul's career as a straight line -- as one in which everything had always, inexorably pointed him in the direction God wanted him to go.

Or we can see it as a sudden change in direction -- as one in which God wiped clean the slate and gave Paul a fresh, new beginning.

That's because it was both . . . just as it often is with us.

For just like Paul, God leads us places we never thought we'd go.

And just like Paul, they always turn out to be the places we'd been heading all along.