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Greg Brothers is an Adventist pastor in Oregon.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Tell me the story of Jesus

. . . then she smiled – and I knew she was the one for me.

That’s a Creation Story. To be specific, it’s the story of how I met the woman who became my wife. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told that story:

  • to my kids,
  • to my friends,
  • and even to church members . . .

Because that story – like all good Creation Stories – says something important about who I am and what I believe.

The Jews knew this. As a quick glance at the Bible will tell you, they weren’t much on abstract philosophy; the Jews didn’t spend a lot of time back then in talking about the Nature of Truth or the Meaning of Life.

No, when God’s people wanted to talk about something important, they told stories. Stories about beginnings. Stories about the time God met Abraham. Or the way God helped David set up his kingdom. Or why it fell. Or how God brought His people back to their own land again.

In a phrase, they told Creation Stories – and in doing so, they learned what it means to be God’s people.

Likewise, this week you’ll be studying three Creation Stories – three accounts of just how the church in Ephesus got started. And as you discuss Acts 19-21, Acts 19:1-41, and Acts 20:17-38, you should learn more than just who, when, and where. No, you should also look at how, why, and what.

  • How did God lead His people.
  • Why did God do this?
  • And what does this tell you about following God today?

In short, your job is to take their Creation Story, and make it yours as well. It’s a lot easier to know where you’re going, after all, if you know where you’ve already been.

Pastor Greg

And remember: “All the way to heaven is heaven” – Teresa of Avila.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Lord of Then is the Lord of Now

And I saw a great crowd whom no one could number, stretched out before the throne of God. And books were opened. And judgment was set.

And verily, a remnant did push their way to the front. And they did complain with great complaints, saying unto Him that sat upon the throne, “Lord, thou didst not conform unto the predictions we had made, and thou didst not arrive according to the schedules we had set. And behold, thou hast made us look like fools!”

And the Lord said, “Say what?”

And they did open their books, and they did unroll their charts, and they did set up their PowerPoint presentations . . . and they did demonstrate what manner of coming the Lord should have done.

“For there should have been a Great Time of Trouble Such as Never Was Since the World Began,” they did say, being very careful to capitalize properly. “And only after that should the end have come. But lo, the Great Time of Trouble did not arrive as we had predicted – and that is why we were sore amazed at your return.”

And the Lord did scratch His head and say, “So what do you call the Twentieth Century?”

And they did reply and say, “What?”

“The Twentieth Century – you remember it, I’m sure. More people died of war, famine, and disease in that century than any other. In fact, more died of these things during that century than just about all the rest of history put together. And if that doesn’t count as a Great Time of Et cetera, then I don’t know what does.”

And at that, the remnant did look somewhat relieved (and even a little embarrassed); and its members did say, “We hope that thou dost not hold it against us, that we did not realize this was going on . . . for we did live in the United States, and we did miss out on most of the suffering during that time. In short, it would seem that this particular prophecy did not apply to us.”

“I guess not,” said the Lord. “But there is another one that does: ‘For I was hungry . . .’”

Pastor Greg

And remember: “To live is to pray. To pray is to love. And to love is to serve” – Henri Nouwen.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Doing well by doing good

Click on the title of this particular essay, and you can read a nifty article in The New York Times about everything that Big Business is doing to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Impressive stuff, right? In fact, you might want to share it with your Sabbath School class -- and having done so, you'll then want to discuss these questions:

1. Businesses are donating aid to hurricane victims, not just these people need help, but also because they believe that doing so will help their reputation . . . and ultimately, help them make even more money. Does it matter why they help, just so long as they do -- and if that's true for businesses, then why isn't it true for people?

2. Why are people so eager to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina? Why aren't we just as willing to help others in need (such as the homeless, the mentally ill, or the 40 million Americans who lack health insurance)?

3. Should our church do more to advertise the good things it does through Community Services, etc? What about recognizing the work of specific church members (such as the people who work in Communty Services)? What about recognizing the donations of specific church members (such as those who've given heavily to our Building Fund?)

4. What is the best way to teach our children about service? Should we require students at our school to volunteer in our community? Does this discriminate against students who must also work in order to pay their school bills?

Have fun!

Pastor Greg

And remember: "Any idiot can face a crisis -- it's the day-to-day living that wears you out" -- Molly Ivins.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

How many Adventists does it take to change a lightbulb?

Sometimes, you need to change things in order to keep them the same.

When it came time to eat the Passover meal, for instance, Jesus sat down.

And if that doesn’t seem odd, then take a look at Exodus 12:11. Speaking of the first Passover service, God said to Moses that “this is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.”

In short, Passover was the original fast-food meal; when you ate it, you were supposed to be on your feet and ready to go.

Why?

Because Passover was the sign you were no longer a slave; now you were free to leave Egypt!

But Matthew 26:20, Mark 14:18, and Luke 22:14 all agree that the Last Supper was a sit-down affair – that Jesus and his disciples all “reclined” at table.

So what gives? Why did Jesus and his followers sit down when they should have been standing up? Didn’t they know what the Bible said?

Well, yes – they probably did. But in the days of Jesus, only slaves ate standing up . . . and to eat the Passover meal that way would definitely give the wrong impression! That’s why the rabbis said that Passover should be eaten while you were sitting down – the way free people ate.

In short, Passover was still about freedom – that hadn’t changed.

But to make sure God’s people understood that unchanging message of freedom . . . well, that’s why they brought in the chairs.

Likewise, God doesn’t change. The gospel doesn’t change. And our need for that gospel will never change.

But if we want people to understand just what hasn’t changed . . . if we want people to accept just what hasn't changed . . . and if we want people to worship the God who doesn't change . . .

Then maybe we need to make some changes around here?

Pastor Greg

And remember: “Things that can’t go on forever, don’t” – Herbert Stein.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Back in the days when my Mom was on the contract negotiating team for the Portland teacher’s union, she used to tell me this joke:

“So the union rep calls a meeting with the teachers and says, ‘This year, we’ve got a contract that I think you’re really going to like: double the pay, early retirement, and you only need to come in for work on Wednesdays. Any questions?’

And a voice from the back shouts out, ‘You mean, every Wednesday?’”

Her point, of course, was that no job is perfect – and even if it was, then we still wouldn’t be happy!

Not always.

Not all the time.

Ask the people in your class what they like about their job, after all, and they’ll tell you:
  • it pays (though not enough).
  • it gives them a sense of purpose (though not always).
  • it gets them out and about (though that does get old at times).

In short, work can be a blessing – but like everything else on this fallen world of ours, it is never more than mixed-blessing.

And right there, you have one of the most important points that you can make in this week’s lesson: it’s the fact that there’s no great and shining job that’s out there waiting for the members of your Sabbath School class – no wonderful career that will meet all their needs, no perfect profession that will satisfy all their desires.

No, all jobs have their downside – that’s the bad news.

The good news is that God can take even the worst job, and make it a blessing anyway.

Even if you have to work every Wednesday.

Pastor Greg

And remember: “You can get much farther with kind words and a gun than you can with kind words alone” – Al Capone.