Monday, December 31, 2007

Merry New Year...

It is almost midnight, Tara and I are chillin' on the couch.

We're munching on chips and salsa..but it's not just any salsa, it's Jack's Special Salsa. Look for it in your local grocery store. It's delicious, one of the best salsas I've ever had. Second only to Dennis' salsa. His Venezulan salsa is Numero Uno. But I can only get his homemade concoction on rare occasions, so I must settle for the savory Jack' Special Salsa.


Highlights of 2007 for the Happy Hallman Home

Number One: Birth of Eli Martin Hallman. He was born on my brother Matt's Birthday, and we just dedicated him to the Lord on Matt's Deathday. A special year.

Number Two: The Family Vacation to Monterey, California. Fourteen Hallmans ventured across our beautiful America to visit the hometown of our Aunt Faye. We took a week to get there, spent a week there, and took a week to return home. The trip of a lifetime. In our Chevy Venture we had four children four and under, and they did pretty good, and Tara and I had fun.

Number Three: Celebrate Twelve Years of Marriage to my Beautiful Wife, Tara. 12 is a special number for us.
Our First Date: November 12, 1993
Our Engagement Date: December 12, 1994
Our Wedding Date: August 12, 1995
Found Out We Were Pregnant with Emma: July 12, 2002
Went Into Labor with Emma: March 12, 2003
Levi and Isaac were born on the Twelfth Day of Christmas: January 5, 2005

Some Anticipated Highlights of 2008:

Eli turns 1 on March 26!

I graduate from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School with a Masters of Divinity this Summer.

Emma starts Kindergarten in the Fall.

Levi and Isaac begin Preschool the Fall as well.

Anchor Community Church will celebrate its Tenth Anniversary in October.

Tara gets caught up on her eight scrapbooks...not including the California trip; all this by the end of the year!

Hope you have a Merry New Year in 2008...

Friday, December 28, 2007

Faith, Mercy, and Potential

It is so hard to believe because it is so hard to obey.
- Soren Kierkegaard

In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don't.
- Blaise Pascal

For many of us, the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith. It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it.
- John Ortberg

When I was young, I used to admire intelligent people; as I grow older I admire kind people.
- Abraham J. Heschel

The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them but to be indifferent to them; that's the essence of inhumanity.
- George Bernard Shaw

Remember there's no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.
- Scott Adams

If you neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.
- Bishop Desmond Tutu

I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.
- Abraham Lincoln

Mercy, detached from justice, grows unmerciful.
- C.S. Lewis

A good book that Steve Dennie passed on to me, Contrariaian's Guide to Knowing God: Spirituality for the Rest of Us by Larry Osborne, contains a helpful chapter - The Potential Trap: Why Being All We Can Be Might Be a Dumb Idea. Not only do pastor's need to read this chapter, but anybody who strives to improve their lot in life. It's not that achieving one's potential is bad in and of itself, but often times what we do to achieve potential is bad for us, bad for others, and bad for God. The temptation to achieve one's potential can be lucrative and destructive.

He writes...
Actually, my disillusionment with the pursuit of fully realized potential began...with a little fruit inspecting.
I noticed that my friends and colleagues who considered fulfilling their personal potential as the best way to please God were NOT becoming more Christlike. They were becoming increasingly competitive, self-centered, and dissatisfied.
I also noticed that when it came time to make major life decisions, the compass called potential always pointed to the bigger platform, the more challenging task, and the greater rewards. It seldom pointed toward sustaining a long-term relationship, a slower pace, a lesser role, or an old-fashioned concept called loyalty.

Destination Sickness:
Another problem with the quest to use all our gifts and fulfill all our promise, no matter what, is that it sets us up for the heartache known as Destination Sickness.
There's nothing worse than arriving where you wanted to go, only to realize you don't want to be there. We've all experienced it at some level - having left something good for what we though was much better; only to find that the greener grass was painted concrete.
But perhaps the saddest part of the journey to bogus greener grass is that it almost always leaves behind broken relationship. Co-workers, family members, friends, and those who depend on us are devastated to discover that our deepest loyalty is not to them, but to ourselves and our potential.

Genuine Christianity

Genuine Christianity: Essentials for Living Your Faith by Ron Sider is a helpful guide for responding to James 2:16-17

If one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

Sider is president of Evangelicals for Social Action (ESA), and in this book he fleshes out eleven characteristics of Genuine Christians, those who follow Jesus in faith and deed everyday.

To set up these characteristics he imagines a conversation between Jesus and the messenger angel Gabriel:
"You mean," Gabriel asks in amazement, "your whole plan to save the world depends on that ragtag bunch of fishermen, ex-prostitutes, and tax collectors?"
"That's right," Jesus replies.
"But what if they fail? Gabriel persists, with growing alarm. "What's your backup plan?"
"There is no back-up plan," Jesus says quietly.

Characteristics of Genuine Christians
1. Genuine Christians embrace both God's holiness and God's love.

2. Genuine Christians live like Jesus.

3. Genuine Christians keep their marriage covenants and put children before career.

4. Genuine Christians nurture daily spiritual renewal and live in the power of the Spirit.

5. Genuine Christians strive to make the church a little picture of what heaven will be like.

6. Genuine Christians love the whole person the way Jesus did.

7. Genuine Christians mourn church divisions and embrace all who confess Jesus as God and Savior.

8. Genuine Christians confess that Jesus is Lord of politics and economics.

9. Genuine Christians share God's special concern for the poor.

10. Genuine Christians treasure the creation and worship the Creator.

11. Genuine Christians embrace servanthood.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Sunday Sermon Notes - 12.30.07

James 2:14-26 (TNIV)

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if people claim to have faith but have no deeds? Can such faith save them?
Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, "Go in Peace: keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.

You see that [Abraham's] faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.

You see that people are justified by what they do and not by faith alone.

As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

The context of this text is mercy: Mercy triumphs over judgment. James has been urging his fellow believers to not show favoritism towards the rich nor discrimination towards the poor, but instead - mercy. Apparently in James' world, there were those that claimed to follow Jesus, but also insisted on favoritism and discrimination. James points out that this claim to faith is hollow and empty, faith in Jesus produces footsteps of Jesus.

He is essentially pointing out the obvious: faith in God's mercy to forgive you on the Day of Judgment is only effective when I give mercy in God's name to those who need rescued, helped, cared for. Reminds me of what James said earlier about true religion: caring for the widow and orphan in their distress...

To be a Christian is to be one who believes that God desires to grant us mercy, to forgive us our sins on the Day of Judgment through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. And this belief becomes alive in us and through us when we grant mercy to those around us, when we forgive the sins of others amongst us. Our belief is dead, our Christianity is dead, our religion is worthless if we do not give the mercy that we desire God to give us.

What would compel a Christian to only pronounce a blessing upon a hungry, cold person without actually getting some food and clothes to help out? Maybe too busy to do anything else but utter a quick blessing... Maybe too cynical: it's probably that hungry/cold person's own fault for their condition - if I help them out I am only enabling them in their poor choices. Maybe too naive about how God answers prayers - maybe they think that a miracle will be so much more effective than me going home and getting some hot food and warm clothes.

Too busy. Too cynical. Too naive. But we're a Christian. We deeply desire God's mercy now and at the Last Day. But too busy these days, too cynical, too naive to give out the mercy upon others that we crave from our Creator. But we're saved...

It seems like James is convincting us with this potent challenge, as well as inspiring us towards a greater faith: you can help the hungry, you can clothe the cold - that is something you and I could actually do. We know people who know people who need food and warmth, we could make a phone call or two and make a difference.

You want to be merciful, and you can be merciful. But don't be merciful for mercy's sake; be merciful for Christ's sake. Let Jesus be your motivation - if you want his mercy now and at the Day of Judgment, give mercy now and everyday. You can do it, you can do all things merciful in Christ you gives you strength.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Happy Christmas to You!

From the Hallman family to you, have a wonderful holiday season celebrating the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.

May you find the hope, faith, and love that God has for you to enjoy and also give to others.

Oh, and feel no guilt over guzzling too much eggnog! I feel no guilt, just tighter pants and a slight stomach ache!

Hope you have fun with your family and friends...

Monday, December 24, 2007

Saint Nicholas, Santa Claus, and back again...

Charlie Brown's disillusion with the commercialization of Christmas resonates deep within me. But according to some of the links below, merchants have been using Santa to sell stuff at Christmas time for almost two-hundred years!

Listen to this NPR Story - The Slide from Saint Nicholas to Santa Claus.
Copy and paste this link:

As a Christian, there is a need to do something with Santa Claus. I can't ignore him, he is intertwined with Christmas in America. As an American, as a Christian, how do I celebrate Christmas with Santa Claus?

One tactic has been to uncover the origins of Santa; but there are two origins. Santa as we know him originated around the 1700's, around the time of the Revolution; but the original inspiration for Santa was, as we all know by now, Saint Nicholas.

It's been alot of fun to uncover some interesting historical facts about the real life (and mythic) of Saint Nicholas. One theory is that the Protestants, in their effort to cleanse the communities of Catholic influence, increased the secular rise of Santa Claus - if people couldn't be religious about St. Nick, they'd keep the tradition without the religious sentiment that would get them in trouble. So here I am, as a Protestant, trying to discover the great heritage of this Saint Nicholas! Click here to uncover a great site with fascinating stuff: Who Is Saint Nicholas?

If you click on that link, you'll also find some more great articles, like: Saint Nicholas and the Origin of Santa Claus.

It's interesting to keep in mind that Santa Claus was created to sell toys, he is designed to drive the commerce of our nation forward. But, as classical Americans, we can make Santa Claus be anything we want!

It's the same with Saint Nicholas, he was born into savage times, was used by Jesus to save the weak and poor, and he demonstrated the generosity in God, and all the time directing people to their Father in Heaven, the true Father Christmas. But as all people do, Saint Nicholas was made into someone bigger than life, and yet behind all the mythic legends is this truth: he loved Jesus and loved others as Jesus, and that story just never gets old - it still inspires what is best about our American commercialized Christmas!

And if you want to remember what Charlie Brown and Linus have to say about Christmas, here you go:

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Don't Touch That Ornament!

We must have uttered that command a hundred times on Christmas Decoration Weekend. The kids were just so excited about getting the tree, decorating it, putting up lights, and dancing to the music. But especially the ornaments; we had them all laid out on a table, and the three of them would just sit and look at them. There must have been a tractor-beam emitting from the ornaments, because inevitably a little finger would be gravitating towards one of the tree-decorations. "Put it down!" "Stop touching that!" "Let go, both of you!" "Hands off, you're going to drop it and break it, and then what will you do!"

All in all, it was a fun weekend. As Tara and I reflected back, there was a moment Friday night, after we had the tree in the stand, where we discussed just the two of us putting up the lights and ornaments. "No," I said, "It'll be fun to have the kids help." Ha! Should have listend to my wife...

Here we are at St. Joe Tree Farm, our traditional site for our REAL, LIVE, FRAGRANT Christmas Tree. We're glad to have Eli along for the ride this year!

Emma volunteered to pull the tree-wagon, Isaac wanted the saw, and Levi chose to help Mama pull Eli in the wagon - definitely a two-person task!

We found our tree right away. Maybe the biting cold wind helped us in our choice. However, it took us longer to put on pants, boots, extra shirt, hat, sweater, jacket, gloves for four kids than it did to walk a hundred yards to the first tree we liked. I wasn't about to end our venture there, so I made the family walk another ten minutes, looking for another tree. But, we ended up where we started, quite pleased with our discovery.

Emma was thrilled that she got to pull the tree back to the barn, she even let me help!

Tara and the kids posing with the fallen tree, all smiles, and why not, it's Christmas Time!

Isaac decided that he wanted to help drag the tree, he's such a good helper.

Since Mom and Dad ordered Starbucks on the way to the tree-hunt, the kids got homemade hot chocolate once we got home. Perfect...

Instead of hot-chocolate, Eli got cuddle time with his Mama, and only one layer of clothing!

Levi and Tara putting on his first ornament of the year.

Isaac letting Tara help him with his first ornament of the season.

Emma letting Tara watch her put on her first ornament of the holiday.

Levi's version of helping was to carry around the huge mound of lights from the hallway and throw them down on the front porch. Very helpful.

Isaac was delegated the job of strectching out the line-lights. He grabbed one end and then pulled to straighten it out; except he didn't stop pulling and he ended up walking backwards all the way over to the neighbors house. What a goofball!

Emma flitted around from job to job, she had way to much energy to help with one task for too long. She definitely knows how to spread the Christmas Joy!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Give Me Understanding That I May Live


Eighteenth letter of the Hebrew AlephBeth

You are righteous, LORD,
and your laws are right.

Maybe one of the more obvious statements of this poet; he knows that what One is constitutes what one creates. Whether as a parent, as a leader, as a teacher, as a friend, as an artist, as a lawmaker - who you are becomes infused in what you do and make. Thankfully our God always does what is right and good, so he and his words/works are "fully trustworthy."

For me, this has become the central issue for belonging to God: is He and his words/works trustworthy? The poet goes on to note that the LORD and his words/works are everlasting and true. Those two ideas may inspire you, but for me, my soul wants to experience God's loyalty, faithfulness, and trustworthiness. Will he keep his promises? Will he abandon me? Will he live up to what He claims of himself? Can I see enough of his handiwork in this world to sustain the trustworthiness? With the hardships that I have intertwined into my life, can I still believe that God is trustworthy?

For this psalmist, following the instructions of the LORD, keeping the Torah is where trustworthiness is fleshed out; if I do what God requires, will I receive the benefits that He promised? Jesus is the new Torah, and so in Him trustworthiness is truly fleshed out; will we follow the Way of Jesus, do we trust that the Way of Jesus will "give me delight?"

The final benefit remembered by this songwriter is this: "Your statues are always righteous; [they] give me understanding that I may live." Going the Way of God in Jesus will help me see what is right, help me do what is right, and help me rightly understand this world that I am born into, a world created to be good, a world being redeemed from evil.

One of the great pains in my life is the overwhelming sense of misunderstanding I have about how the world works, why it is the way it is, and what is the next right thing to do in light of how messed up everything seems to be. What is the next right step to take, a step of rebellion against what is wrong in this world, and a righteous step that furthers God's reconciling and redemptive work for those that reach out and take His strong and extended hand.

Oh LORD, please give me understanding that I may live; the instruction of Jesus is always righteous and gives me delight.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Way of Anchor and The Present Future - Part One

Six Tough Questions for the Church.

Reggie McNeal's book resonates deeply with me. Professor Ruth Ann Price of Huntington University recommended it; it's the book her class is reading - the class to which she invited me to speak this year and last. This year I picked up the book to review it prior to the class discussion. I was blown away by how bold and on target he was with his observations, questions and answers.

The six chapters of the book each orient around a New Reality that is emerging, a reality that churches had better recognize and enter into - or else they will slowly disappear into irrelevance and lukewarmness.

New Reality One: The Collapse of the Church Culture

New Reality Two: The Shift from Church Growth to Kingdom Growth

New Reality Three: A New Reformation - Releasing God's People

New Reality Four: The Return of Spiritual Formation

New Reality Five: The Shift from Planning to Preparation

New Reality Six: The Rise of Apostolic Leadership

It is refreshing to read an author who speaks with clarity the thoughts that have been stirring in my head and heart. He speaks into reality a future that I vaguely yet tenaciously wondered about, even yearned for. This book gives me great insight into what is next for Anchor, for what I am to do and be, and what Anchor can become in this new reality.

I'm going to post over the next few weeks/months on each chapter, writing out my answers to his tough questions. I know it will do me good, maybe it will inspire you as well.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Let No Sin Rule Over Me


Seventeenth Letter of the Hebrew AlephBeth

Your statutes are wonderful;
therefore I obey them.
The unfolding of your words gives light;
it gives understanding to the simple.
I open my mouth and pant,
longing for your commands.

It strikes me as odd, the manner in which this poet gushes over the Torah. I don't know of anybody who gushes over our Constitution in a similar way. Both documents are revered, but there is something divine about the Torah that draws out something beyond. This poet remarks astutely that the Torah gives light in a dark land, a place where other laws are suspect to bribery and tend to favor the wealthy or powerful. But for the simple, the hardworking laborer, the honest and plain citizen, there is a law which one can come under which will give wisdom and understanding. No one I know says that about our imperfect American law system. So what is it about God's Instructions to His People that elicits this kind of marvel, gratitude, and hunger?

Turn to me and have mercy on me,
as you always do to those who love your name.
Direct my footsteps according to your word;
let no sin rule over me.
Redeem me from human oppression,
that I may obey your precepts. would seem that what elicits this poet's response to God's Way is the condition of his soul. I doubt that the one who penned this song had serious sin issues...but it does seem that he had deep understanding of his own self, that he was seriously honest about what factors influenced his decisions and attitudes and beliefs. Maybe this author is so focused on this Law because by it he can find a freedom from something that other laws can't provide. Maybe because this author wants The Author of the Law to pay attention to him, to notice his plight, to regard his life, to bring mercy in response to his faithful and honest love.

The poet knows that letting God's Wisdom direct his steps will break the fetters of sin that shackle hands and heart; he also knows that the sins of others can hinder the coming of the wisdom. Note his prayer, the double effect he is seeking: God direct my steps; God remove the oppressors so I can choose to step in the paths you direct. What's his motivation for redemption from human oppression? So he can go the Way of God, so he can Love his Lord, so he can Follow His Instructions. There is something inherently good about getting out from under the rule of sin - both my own and the oppressive or lingering effects of others - and it is a result of God's ongoing direction of my daily steps throughout the week.

Make your face shine on your servant
and teach me your decrees.
Streams of tears flow from my eyes,
for your law is not obeyed.

Deep at the core of this poem is this desire: that God would smile at his chosen one; that God would notice me and be glad because of me. Why would God shine his face upon me? Because I am willing to let him teach me His Way, and I work hard at keeping his commands, letting him constantly help me. This writer so much wants God to be pleased with him that his human heart breaks when he finds himself unwilling or unable to do what God asked of him.

What a contrast to my heart, which tries to downplay my disobedience, or ignore the transgression. And what about my reaction to the sins of others? Does their disobedience elicit disgust and disdain for me, or tears? Does the downward trend of our culture make me angry, despondent, or indifferent? Or are there tears for the neighbors and fellow citizens who are oppressed and burdened under the rule of their sin and the sins of others?

When I let no sin rule over me, through me God is able to let no sin rule over you; and together God is able to let no sin rule over another.

God, please smile at me; draw out tears from my heart, through me bring redemption and wisdom.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving Part Deux

The festivities begin with the Simmons side; here we have Uncle Jamil teaching Alia and Emma how to stack markers. He's so smart. Amy, Allen, and Alia aren't as impressed.

Now that Uncle Jamil is finished teaching the girls how to stack markers, here he is teaching ummm...let's see now, I think that is...Levi...or is it Isaac...hmmmmm ah, I think it is Isaac because he has a dark t-shirt underneath. Oh, as I was writing, here Jamil is teaching Isaac how to read. What a guy!

There was alot of literacy training at our Thanksgiving party, here Grandma Karen is reading to a grinning granddaughter.

The turkey was too much for me, and the fun was too much for Eli. I do believe this is THE perfect way to spend a Thanksgiving afternoon. One of my favorite moments as a Dad...

The big sisters Emma and Alia are proud of their little bro and sis.

Here's the gang at Grandma Karen's home, we no longer require all the children to look at the camera when taking's really quite a pointless endeavor.

Again, no real need to look at the camera, or sit still for that matter; so here we are at Aunt Shirley and Aunt Faye's home with Uncle Jerm, Aunt Maria, Eva and Lydia.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Scissors, The Dentist, and the Thanksgiving Indian Girl

This was quite the sight to behold; I walked in the door and there before me was a cascade of color littering the table and floor. The culprit? A serene, focused, and happy little boy with his scissors. Long after the other siblings had departed unto some other destructive venture, Isaac contentedly cut up his colored paper.

Lucky Levi travelled to the dentist for his first filling. Momma took the brave little boy. Though he was all smiles on the trip there, he was a tad doped up the on the way home. By the evening he was back to his normal self, at 100 mph!

Emma was part of her preschool's Thanksgiving program, can you find her? She enjoyed listening to the other kids sing the songs, she also likes looking around at people.

She made most of her costume herself, she was quite proud of it.

Don't they both have a beautiful smile?!

Happy Birthday #60 Grandma Karen!

Everyone had a good time getting together to honor and celebrate the wonderful milestone of 60 birthdays for Grandma Karen.

Jamil volunteered for kid-duty. Emma prefers to listen to her stories upside down. Isaac...well I guess he didn't like the story that Alia picked out.

Amy had the brilliant idea of buying 60 of something for Grandma Karen; Here E.L.I are helping her unpack boxes of cookies...

Tara and Amy lugged in one of the heaviest cakes they could find - and tastiest.

After exhausting Jamil's reading capacity, the kids moved on to Aunt Shirley and Aunt Carol. Aunt Carol is reading Eli the Wide-Mouthed Frog book...nobody can read that story quite like Aunt Carol!

Levi and Isaac liked the frog story so much they insisted that Uncle Allen read it to them...I think Levi is either yawning or imitating the frog. Uncle Allen did such a good job that the boys kept him entertained the rest of the night!

The Queen and two of her princesses...if only Dawn could have made it, the trio would have been complete.

The Queenmother and the Queen...aren't they cute?!

Eli was exhausted by the time everyone headed home. He likes parties, fortunately he also likes to sleep.