Thursday, May 29, 2008

Sunday Sermon Notes - 6.1.08

The Acts of the Apostles 16.22-34

Interesting historical note: according to F.F. Bruce, the Gospel According to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles was originally one work titled "Historical Origins of Christianity". I knew that Luke was the author of the two works, and that they fit together, but I didn't realize they were originally one work. Interesting. After the second century, the four gospels were clustered together, thus the Acts were separated and put with Paul's letters. I've often wondered why modern day Bibles don't just switch Luke and John, so that in reading the gospels, you can have a reconnected story from Luke's Gospel to His Account of the Apostles.

Sunday is Baptism Day! Always a special day. And usually the occasion for a sermon on being baptized. Fortunately there is plenty of material to use in the NT. Like the story of the Philippian jailer who was saved and baptized by Paul. Fascinating story.

My point is simple: we get baptized because of what we believe. Simple enough. But to clarify - the use of the word "belief" is qualified amply enough by James and even Paul in his letters to Rome, Corinth, and others. We don't get baptized to help us believe, to indicate that we want to believe, or that we want to be seen as one who believes. We get baptized because of what we believe about Jesus - is he Lord or not?

As Rob Bell and other preachers have pointed out: the cry of the Roman citizen and slave was "Caesar is Lord". Caesar is the Savior, he is to be worshipped, he requires primary allegiance. For the jailer to announce that Jesus is Lord, and that he believes/puts primary allegiance in Christ, not Caesar - well this is a monumental crossing the Rubicon. Baptism would be like physically crossing the Rubicon - for baptisms were normally done in "living water" or water that is moving - thus a river or stream and not a lake or pond.

In our century - it is still radical to publicly make known that you believe Jesus is Lord. It is even more radical to make life choices that clearly reflect this allegiance. And I don't mean going to church, reading your Bible and avoiding swear words. Because of what he believed about the Lord Jesus, and about Caesar, the jailer was going to have to make changes in his eating habits, his sexual habits, his spending habits, his recreation habits, his family habits. Not because of adopting a long list of rules to live by, but because he was gripped by the saving grace of Jesus - the forgiveness of sins. To be forgiven, and then to live as one willing to give grace, to forgive, to love as God loves us - well that is going to change a lot of habits.

The jailer was confronted with death, and received a second chance at life. He took his second chance as a gift from God and started over again - was baptized into a new way of life. Have you been given a second chance at life? What are you doing with that gift? With your life? Be baptized because you have chosen to believe in the Lord Jesus, in his Way of Life - his way of grace, forgiveness, truth, goodness, strength, and power. The baptism matters to the degree that you live what you believe. Belief with out life is dead, baptism with living belief is powerful.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Another Reason We Go To Church...

I received a note this week from an Anchorite. An experience during the week prompted him to share some thoughts with me about last week's sermon: Why Gather On Sundays?

What he wrote was authentic and poetic. It was an encouragement to me, and I wanted to pass it on.

We need to be in amongst others physically,
in the same place, just to know we're not alone.
Not alone with our problems.
Not alone with our self doubts.
Not alone with our hope and faith.

You and many others at Anchor continue making me feel not alone.
I would have said everybody, but I've got to open up more, to more people;
then that whole communality thing just gets better.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Difficulty, Suffering, And Hope

Rob Bell writes in his final chapter of Velvet Elvis these helpful thoughts. Ministry has been really, really hard for me lately. Plenty of suffering. And it's been easy to lose perspective, misjudge reality, become confused about my responsibilities, and to worry about what's next. These following thoughts contain helpful reminders to me about the inherent difficulty of following Jesus, the natural suffering that often results from loving and serving, and the possibility that it is all good. Maybe you'll find these thoughts helpful too.

To be this kind of person - the kind who selflessly serves - takes everything a person has. It is difficult. It is demanding. And we often find ourselves going against the flow of those around us. Which is why we are reclaiming the simple fact that Jesus said the way was narrow. We are honest about this, especially to our friends who wouldn't say they are Christians. Very few people in our world are offering anything worth dying for. Most of the messages we receive are about how to make life easier. The call of Jesus goes the other direction: It's about making our lives more difficult. It is going out of our way to be more generous, disciplined and loving and free. It is refusing to escape and become numb to and check out of this broken, fractured world.

And so we are embracing the high demands of Jesus' call to be one of his disciples. We are honest about it. We want our friends to know up front that the costs are high, which is what is so appealing about Jesus - his vision for life takes everything we have.

This is what we are all dying for - something that demands we step up and become better, more focused people. Something that calls out the greatness that we hope is somewhere inside of us.

Not only is the way narrow, but it involves suffering. To truly engage with how the world is, our hearts are going to be broken again and again. And so we are learning how to suffer well. Not to avoid it but to feel the full force of it. It is important that churches acknowledge suffering and engage it - never, ever presenting the picture that if you follow Jesus, your problems will go away. Following Jesus may bring on problems you never imagined.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

What If Jesus Returns in 7000AD?

In the Christian circles I live, there is a continual buzz about the imminent return of Christ. He could come any day, so be ready.

But Christians of some sorts have been saying that for almost two-thousand years. Who's to say it won't be for another five-thousand?

For some of you, you never, ever, ever wonder or worry when the Lord will come back to earth. I've tried not to think about it for the past decade or so. But the issue just won't go away. The theological word used to describe the thinking around the return of Christ is: eschatology (in Greek - study of last things). Does eschatology matter, does what you believe about the coming again of Jesus matter?

On one level, it doesn't seem to. It doesn't really affect my purchase of wheat or white bread, of a red or blue car, of getting 7 or 8 hours of sleep, or a thousand other mundane, daily decisions I continue to make.

But don't you ever wonder what the purpose of life is?

Don't you ever wonder where history is headed?

What trajectory are our actions taking the human race?

If God is at work in the world, and he sent Jesus once, and promises to send him again at the end of the ages...what does that mean for where humanity is headed and what does that mean for how I live today?

That's the question I'm trying to answer.

My first action is to squiggle out from under the oppressive weight that Jesus might return in my lifetime. Of course he might, but odds are he won't. Pretty much every generation has had somebody who was convinced that this was the season when the Lord would return as a "thief in the night." Except he didn't.

This belief that Jesus is headed back soon because of XYZ events going on in the world tends to result in a couple of negative traits: one being short-sightedness. We do the work of the LORD with only short-term gains in mind. We think of doing Christian work with the goal of saving as many individuals now as possible...before the LORD returns.

But what if a bunch of Christians - committed to the Return of Christ - took into account that it might be another two-thousand years, or twice that: how might that shape what kind of plans we implement for being/bringing Good News to the Nations?

At Anchor I made a commitment to pastor for a minimum of a decade. For most in my profession, that's a long-term commitment, especially for a first appointment. But in the scope of the next four-thousand years, how might I change my perspective for how much of my life I invest in Anchor? How might it change my perspective for what kind of work Anchor might be committed to? I'm sure somebody is scoffing at this proposal. At Anchor most people scoffed at my thirty-year vision for the church. I was serious, too bad not many others were. I know the world changes fast, that many insist that three-year visions for a church are almost too lofty. But that just depends on what you envision being accomplished - stuff that will be forgotten in a couple of years, or stuff that will endure for a couple of decades, maybe a couple of generations, unto the ages.

Some crazy people think in terms too lofty to stay anchored in reality. Most normal people think in terms too safe, too predictable, too trivial. But if Jesus has promised to return at the end of the ages for the renewal of all things, and if he is teaching us to pray for his kingdom to come now, then there is a link between our Isaiah 61 work today and the work of the Spirit that endures into the millenia.

Brian McLaren has some helpful thoughts along this line in his book The Church on the Other Side:
Could it be God's plan for all people through all time to live with this dynamic tension - not enough patience to breed complacency, and not enough urgency to inspire panic. Does he want us to hold urgency and patience in synergy to encourage us to plant trees (a long-term investment requiring patience) and plant them today (with enthusiastic urgency)? And could it be that on a personal level, urgency always makes sense, since each of us will face our own apocalypse (called death) within this generation anyway? And could it be that on a global level, patience also always makes sense, since God's plans and time frames make our longest life span seem like a sigh?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Waiting for my Huckleberries

Saturday afternoon I planted my huckleberry seeds!

This is my third season in four years for planting delicious huckleberries. Last year was a bumper crop...I think my Mum was able to make two whole pies - one for me and one for Dad. This year I'm expanding my crop.

I ordered two packets of seeds from Direct Gardening. I filled two 18 piece egg cartons with about 100 seeds apiece. Once they sprouted, Dad took one of the cartons home. If even half of my seeds survive my amateurish attempt to farm these berries, I'll be swimming in them! Well not quite, but maybe I can have enough berries so that I can freeze some for a pie at Christmas as well as Thanksgiving and at harvest time!

If you've never had huckleberry pie, let me know. I'll be sure to invite you over at harvest-time and I will share a slice of pie with you. Along with some home-brewed Starbucks coffee, of course!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Thank you for Chicago.

That was how Isaac ended his prayer tonight, when we asked what he was thankful for. Me too, Isaac, me too.

Here's some pics of the fun we had as a family for Graduation Weekend.

Waiting for the Baccalaureate service to get started... I only had to get up with Eli a couple dozen times.

The Happy Hallman's getting ready for bed - we need to get our rest for the big day tomorrow.

Ahhhh...the pool! This was the only thing the kids cared about. Lucky for us, Mike and Jana and crew were able to join us - here Cameron and ELI are hanging on me as I drag them around the pool again and again and again...

All dressed up and ready to Graduate!

The Hallman-MacFarlane Clan - now if only Jerm and Maria could have joined us.

Isn't she beautiful!

ELIE by the fish pond...

That is one very expensive grin. A very relieved grin. A very satisfying grin.

Celebrating with the kids! I missed alot of summers at the lake...they're glad I'm going to be around to swim and boat! I am too.

Nothing better than sharing a sweet moment like this with those who love me most.

Ahhh...Tara, how do I say thank you...for sticking by me, for believing in me, for being with me all the way through. Thank you.

Dad and Mum - thank you for helping make this experience possible. Thanks for the encouraging words, for the notes, for the bran muffins on those early 4:30am drives to school from the lake during the summer...and for helping my wife and kids when I was gone. Thank you.

Thanks Shirley and Faye for spending so much time with the kids and helping Tara when I was at class. Faye - I'll never forget our conversation on the bus while travelling to the Cubs game, when you asked me if I knew what I was doing. I did. :)

It was awesome to have Tara's family join us for this joyous celebration Naomi and Jim, Amy, Hannah and Alia, and Karen! Thanks for the support, for caring about us when times were stressful, and for being there for us.

My friend Leslie; we met in my second summer - during Greek. We did four classes together that summer - Suicide Greek is what they call it...for very good reasons. Good guy, with a son named Ivan. A very cool name.

Levi wouldn't try on the hat, but the other three did...we'll see if someday they get to wear their own.

Here we are - all nineteen of us - at RainForest Cafe in downtown Chicago. It was a looong table, a loud table, a fun table.

Eli and I wear causing great distress to Levi and Isaac, who happen to have very sensitive hearts. The Yellow Snake lowers his head and sticks a long black tongue out. I just happened to be standing near it such that Eli was almost struck by the serpent, which caused Levi and Isaac to squeal. Well of course I had to stick oblivious Eli even closer the next time, which elicited cries of panic. A glance from Tara encouraged me to quit, before I made a bigger scene.

For desert, Emma requested the desserts that catch on fire: a chocolate cake served with vanilla ice cream and a big sparkler on top. Amy and Alia were quite delighted by the surprise, as we all were.

There's just something mischevious about Alia's's almost as if she swiped some of Grandma's cake when she wasn't looking. Or something...

It's Sunday morning breakfast and the kids - with RainForest Cafe souveniers in hand (giant sharp-skinned alligator and long green fuzzy snake) giving me my graduation gift: a fun book by John Wooden about building character and growing up. Definitely a book I can identify with and enjoy; especially with all the neat notes that Tara wrote inside - along with the kids autographs - of the many ways the Wooden story connects with what Tara and I have been through the past five years.

It's Mother's Day! Heading out of the hotel for Kohl's Children's Museum. Momma just wanted to spend time with the kids (and me...) on her day, so that's what we did.

There were alot of neat hands-on activities for the kids; this one included rearranging translucent geometrical shapes. Isaac and Levi did most everything together: pick up beanbags with a crane, shoot windchimes with a water gun, and much more.

Emma impressed me with her princess castle made of the translucent geometrical shapes. Her creation was all by herself, no instructions or model in front of her! Very good job sweetie...I need to get my Lego's out. Oh the fun!

Monday, May 12, 2008

What A Weekend!

Ahhhh...I'm graduated!

Well, almost.

Once I finish my last class in August, then I'll be completely finished.

I made a pledge to Tara that I would be done with my M.Div by the time Emma started kindergarten. I finish my last class on Friday, August 8; Emma starts her first class on Wednesday, August 20. Cutting it kind of close...

It was so much fun having Tara and the kids join me on campus - for the very first time. Tara had been there a few times, but my whole family had never been there with me. All those days, weeks, semesters, years at TEDS, and it was like my own little world. It was also neat to have my parents there with us - they've been so supportive in thousands of was important to Tara and I that they join us for the weekend. Since schooling was such a big part of our life for so long, it was also important to have as much family join us as possible - since so many of them gave something to help us get through. It was fun hanging out at the hotel with the family, swimming, eating breakfast, and taking lots of pictures by the fishpond!

With all the family joining us, there wasn't much time to pause and reflect on that actual experience of graduating. My first moment came when all the graduates were gathered in a large tent prior to the processional. Even though there was a loud and constant buzz of conversation, there was this moment where it dawned on me: Thanks God! God has been so loyal and patient with me these past five years. It was a hard endeavor in many ways, and God proved himself kind and providential. Classes schedules had a way of working out around personal commitments; class topics had a way of tying in with key pastoral issues; spiritual needs and financial needs had a way of being addressed and taken care of. Being a TEDS grad is a special opportunity; only a few people in all the world get the opportunity to be part of such an exceptional school. Thanks God.

Being a part-time student, full-time pastor, and all-the-time husband and father, I didn't have alot of time to meet alot of fellow students and develop life long friendships. Not being that connected, I was a little fearful that when I graduated, I wouldn't know anyone in my class. Fortunately, some of the students that I got to know were graduating with me - it was a pleasant surprise as one by one I met another and another friend on Saturday that was graduating with me. During my Greek-summer, I sat next to Leslie Aylesworth; we had some great talks and I was able to have dinner with his family a couple of times. Good guy, neat friend. I was pleased and surprised that we were able to graduate together. It was also neat meeting and talking with students who I'd not ever met, but standing in line for forty minutes prior to processional makes for a good time to make new friends. I even met one guy named David, standing a few paces away - I had just found his blog the other day...and now I'm meeting him on graduation odd is that?

There are also some interesting family stories: we went to Rainforest Cafe in downtown Chicago for our celebration dinner. We had no problem getting there. Mike and Jana got there early and confirmed with the restaurant that the rest of the 18-member party was on its way. We underestimated traffic and completely forgot about parking issues. Tara drove Amy's truck into town, Shirley followed in the Magnum - they both ended up paying $24 each for parking! I happened to find a parking spot on the street (the car topper prevented me from going into the parking garage) for only $2! Once we got all parked we found our way into the Cafe - very neat! And loud! After a tasty dinner and a flaming desert, we attempted to leave the city. It's a lot harder than we thought. Since I was parked on the street, I ended up trying to leave the city before the other two cars. I accidently got on I94E instead of West, so I had to take the next exit and get off and try to find a new exit. That wasn't easy without a map. But then Jim remembered we had a Garmin; we typed in the address for the school (which was close to the hotel...we couldn't remember that address), and we were finally able to escape. But then Tara missed the exit and never even got on I'm talking to her on the cell phone, while she's trying to talk to Faye on the walkie-talkie, and I'm trying to give them directions...with no map. Crazy! They finally...somehow...miraculously find the right exit, and we all ended back at the hotel a lot later and a lot more tired than we planned! But oh the memories.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Getting Ready to Graduate from TEDS!

This is the weekend!

We're all pretty excited around here. Five years ago, this event seemed a looooong way off. Now that it is here, my first two classes seem like a loooong time ago.

Graduation at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School is Saturday afternoon; with Baccalaureate services Friday evening. We've got lots of family going up with us to Chicago for the weekend: Tara and the kids, Dad & Mum, Shirley and Faye, Karen, Amy and the girls, Jim and Naomi, and Mike & Jana will be in town from Alaska! My brother Jerm and his family can't come, unfortunately. He was able to travel up to class with me a couple times - it was a big help and alot of fun.

It is hard to express how grateful I am to my family for the effort, energy, and prayers they put into me and my schoolwork. They had to rerarrange schedules, listen to us vent, and share their resources with us for all of this to happen.

An extraordinary and unending thank you is in order for my wife Tara. Our decision for me too begin school was difficult. Our experience of me going to school in Chicago was deeply difficult. But it was the right thing to do. I will continue to be indebted to my wife for the sacrifices she made for me. Emma was six months old when I started, and since then we had the twins Levi and Isaac, and our charming Eli. It was hard being in school and having twins. And being a pastor. And Tara working full-time part of the year. Very hard. Which is why I am eternally grateful for Tara. As St. Paul reminds me, "let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another."