Wednesday, January 29, 2014

This week's lesson: discipling the sick

As you teach this week's lesson, you may want to remember that a prescription without a diagnosis is the same thing as malpractice.

You want to find out what's wrong, in other words, before you start telling people what to do.
  • We are justifiably proud of our health message, after all -- but if you have visitors and guests in your class this Sabbath, then you may want to make sure they don't get overwhelmed by all the things they woulda-coulda-shoulda be doing if they join our church.
  • We can learn from suffering -- but given the people in your class who have a chronic or fatal illness (not to mention the people who love someone who does), I'd be real careful how I brought up this point.
  • And God wants us to be healthy -- but if God refused to heal Paul's "thorn in the flesh," then we need to remember that some in our class may be struggling with that same answer from God.   
And yes, there are a lot of things you could say to your class -- a lot of things they may find helpful.

But first, do no harm.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

This week's lesson: discipling children

One thing I've learned about children?

They don't want to be children.

Watch them play, for instance, and you'll notice how much of their time is spent imitating adults.
  • That's why they love to "play house."
  • That's why they love to play with trucks. 
  • That's why they form packs and chase small, moving objects -- and if you don't think that's something adults love to to do, then you've obviously not been watching ESPN.
I was reminded of this at a recent meeting for pastors -- a meeting that focused on young-adults in our church. As part of this, a panel of young-adults discussed why they still attend . . . 
And for half of them, the reason was Pathfinders.
In a way, it was almost funny. We were looking for "new" and "cutting edge" ways to reach this particular group -- yet the most effective program turned out to be something that's been around for more than 50 years!
No, it wasn't the uniforms. It wasn't the marching. It wasn't even the camping trips.
But Pathfinders gave them a chance to make decisions; what's more, it gave them structure and guidance they needed to make good decisions.. 
And Pathfinders isn't the only way to do this. No, your Sabbath School class should be able to come up with other ways to give our children a safe place where they can practice being adults.
I mean, they really don't want to be children -- not forever. 
So why treat them that way?

Monday, January 13, 2014

This week's lesson: discipling and prayer

Two words are all you need.

Yes, the first two words of the Lord's Prayer tell you everything you need to know about prayer -- for when you pray, they tell you that:
  • You are not talking to an absentee landlord who must be brought up to date on the repairs needed in one of their rental properties.
  • You are not dealing with an officious bureaucrat who demands that all requests must be made in the right way, at the right time, by the right people, and on the proper forms.
  • And you are certainly not dealing with the kind of boss who must be wheedled, stroked, flattered, and cajoled before they do something nice for somebody else.
No, we have been given the right to act like Jesus -- the right to address God as "our Father."

And right away, that tells us:
  • God loves to hear us (because that's what Fathers do).
  • God loves to answer our requests (because that's what Fathers do).
  • And God loves it when we realize that we can trust Him with all the nasty bits in our lives (because Fathers already know about the nasty bits -- but they long to know that we trust them).
Prayer is not magic, in other words. It is not a petition. It is not a form of flattery that gets us what we want.
No, prayer is a family sitting around the kitchen table, talking about the day's events.
That's what families do.
That's what prayer is all about.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

This week's lesson: discipling through metaphor

Where do you get your picture of God?

Glance through the hymnal, and you'll notice that most of its metaphors come from:
  • Agriculture (cf. "Bringing in the Sheaves"),
  • Romance (cf. "Jesus, Lover of My Soul"),
  • Travel (cf. "I'm a Pilgrim")
  • War (cf. "Onward Christian Soldiers"),
  • and even Medicine (cf. "The Great Physician Now is Near"),
  • though not Sports (which is one more reason why you'll never hear "Dropkick Me Jesus" on a Sabbath morning in church).
Nothing wrong with this -- but it's worth remembering that every metaphor says some things better than others. Picture Jesus as a farmer, after all, and you risk making him irrelevant to city-folk; focus "the Lover of My Soul," and you'll make adolescent males squirm in embarrassment. And yes, God is the Great Physician . . .

But He's also the Great Dentist.

And the Great Physical Therapist.

And the Great Musician, the Great Civil Engineer, and maybe even the Great Coach.

So take some time this Sabbath to explore your metaphors about God: what they say about God, what they say about you, and what they leave unsaid.

And if you come up with some new ones . . .

Then what does that tell you God is like?

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

This week's lesson: disciples & scripture

It was a dark and stormy night.


My family and I were attending camp meeting in the American Midwest, and the weather service had issued a tornado watch for that evening.

None of us had been through something like this before, but I'd grown up on stories of tornadoes -- my parents are from Kansas, after all . . . and if you've ever heard a tornado story, then you know they come in two forms:
  1. The siren goes off -- and they just barely make it to safety before the tornado hits.
  2. The siren goes off -- and they don't make it..
That's why I told my family to hurry to the shelter if they heard a siren. "You'll be safe if you make it to the hallway just outside our room," I told them. "That's the 'designated safe area' for our building -- but whatever you do, don't waste any time getting there!"

With that plan in mind, we all went to bed . . .

And the next thing I knew, I was standing in the hallway, clutching one child, while my wife came through the door behind me, clutching the other child.

So far, so good -- but as my wife closed the door behind her, I realized three things:
  1. The door locked automatically when it closed -- and none of us had a key.
  2. Since it was the "designated safe area" for the entire building, the hallway was rapidly filling up with people.
  3. And I was wearing only the clothes in which I'd gone to sleep -- and it was a warm night!
Now I'm told that pastors often dream about greeting their church members while wearing nothing but their underwear -- but so far as I know, I'm the only pastor who's ever actually done it.
But such are the power of stories -- the stories I'd grown up hearing about tornadoes.
Likewise, we are shaped by the stories of Scripture -- stories that can move us in powerful (and sometimes embarrassing) ways.
And if a few stories about tornadoes can have the effect they did on me . . . 
Then just think what all those stories in the Bible could do to you!