Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday

We celebrated Fat Tuesday tonight in order to prepare for Ash Wednesday tomorrow! The point is to feast in the evening prior to the day of fasting. Last year was the first time our family had a Fat Tuesday dinner - unfortunately Tara wasn't able to join us. Tonight, not only was Tara feasting with us, but so did my Mum and Dahd. It was fun to have the table full of family and fat food!

The traditional fare for Shrove Tuesday (another name for the day) is pancakes (in Britain the day is known as Pancake Day); so tonight we made our pancakes a little extra rich - an extra egg, extra sugar, extra vanilla. Then for toppings - well that's the real fun part: chocolate pudding, tapioca and whip cream; chocolate, caramel, maple syrup; huckleberries, strawberries, and bananas; peanut butter and M&M's! Mmmmmm..... Mum also cooked up some thick sausages and cheesy hashbrowns. Yup - we were feeling full when we pushed back from the table.

After dinner the kids shared what they are giving up for Lent (very cute...) and then we explained how we were going to put back a quarter a day during the season as a way to support our friends who are missionaries in China, Azerbijian, and Peru. Since each kid gets to put in one quarter a day, Tara and I are going to have to be making lots of change in the next couple of weeks! But I hope the kids get in the habit of finding quarters around the house and putting them into the folder (instead of finding quarters and then hoarding them in their toy box!).

With all the fun we had tonight with dinner, I'm looking forward to tomorrow as a day to reflect, repent, and renew. I need it.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Repent! It's Lent.

Anchor is preparing to observe the Lenten season again this year. It begins this week on Ash Wednesday and ends on Black Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday.

According to Christian History, the early church began the practice of baptizing initiates into the faith on Easter Eve. For forty days prior to that Saturday service they would be trained in faith and way of Jesus. Forty is a significant number in the Scriptures and life of Jesus. According to tradition, Jesus was in the grave for forty hours - from sundown of Friday to sunrise of Sunday. Jesus also spent forty days in the wilderness preparing for his gospel work of restoration to Israel.

The early church set aside forty days for new followers to prepare for baptism and begin their gospel work of restoration to the world. Eventually the church called every believer, not just initiates, to observe the forty day period as preparation for the Easter celebration and all that it represents. The season became a time of reflection and repentance, prayer and fasting, a time of preparation.

For too many Christians, the energy of Easter comes from the special songs we sing on the morning, the upbeat music, the breakfast feast, the new dressy clothes, the smell of the lilies. Obviously that is very superficial, and misses the whole point of the holy day. Easter is about the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead - it is a foreshadow of our future.

At the End of All Things we too will have our bodies resurrected from the dead and we will join Jesus and all who followed him in the New Heavens and the New Earth. This belief has profound implications for how we live now - which is part of the reason why we need Lent - to reflect and remember, to repent and be renewed by the promise of our resurrection.

We need to be willing to repent of our sin in all seasons, not just the Lenten season. That is obvious; but what is not often acknowledged is how rarely and how few people actually repent of their sins in all seasons. What often happens is that people sin, and then they get mad at God because their life is full of junk and is a big mess. Part of the confusion also comes from an unwillingness or inability to recognize which of their actions/attitudes/words is sin.

We sin, and we wound, and we are wounded, and we wonder where God is in all of this. And God promises repeatedly to grant mercy to those that are willingly to receive it. But it is his mercy, and he gives it on his terms, and once he gives it, he controls how the mercy unfolds. It's a free gift, but it's the kind of gift that we don't take and then turn our backs on the Giver. To receive this gift of mercy is to receive the Giver as well.

During Lent we pair together physical actions to remind/spur on spiritual commitments.

~ We may forsake physical intimacy with our spouse for prayers/listening to the LORD.
~ Or we may forsake food for times of confession and penitence.
~ We may take a time out from technology so that we may be in silence, solitude - more open to hear/be with others.
~ We may put a temporary halt to our hobbies and instead invest in serving others in our home/work/church/neighborhood.
~ We may put back coins and dollars to give away to a good cause of the Gospel.

Most sins are rooted in pride (self is foremost), greed (stuff is foremost), or anger (wounded pride or unchecked greed). So it may be that you commit to surrender your sins to the LORD, that you would confess your sins of pride, greed, and anger to the LORD and resolve to repent of them whenever you are guilty of committing them.

This Lent commit to receiving mercy/forgiveness from the LORD when you commit these sins, and then letting the LORD redeem you from these sins (bringing good out of them).

 And the way you remind yourself (and spur yourself) to keep giving up these sins during the next forty days of lent is by giving up something physical and engaging in a spiritual work.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sunday Sermon Notes - 02.15.09

Listen…to each other
…[the husband] must love his wife…
and the wife must respect her husband.
Ephesians 5v22-33 [TNIV]

Since it is St. Valentine's Day Weekend, it's worth addressing the obvious need for husbands and wives to listen to each other. St. Paul draws a subtle distinction between the needs that married men and women have: a married man needs his wife to respect him, and a married woman needs her husband to love her. While we can agree on that need, sometimes we have a hard time grasping a specific action that can clearly reveal that love and respect. I think listening to each other is one such specific action.

It could be stated like this:
Husbands: Love Your Wife – Listen to Her!
Wives: Respect Your Husband – Listen to Him!

When a husband feels understood, he feels respected. When a wife feels understood, she feels loved. So why is it that husbands and wives, and people in general, resist putting in the work of listening to each other? There are plenty of reasons, but three that I think are prominent are these:
• angry with each other
• afraid
• self-absorbed

After awhile, anybody in a relationship will sin against the other person. Since listening is such an everyday event, and it is something that so many people eventually fail at, there are plenty of opportunities for a couple to sin against each other through their non-listening. Non-listening due to anger, fear, or self-absorption increases sin, it wounds, it hurts. So what can you do if you are feeling the effects of the non-listening that has been going on in your relationship?

Start listening out of love, start listening out of respect. The act of listening can bring healing. St. Peter states it like this:
Above all, [listen to] love each other deeply, because [listening] love covers over a multitude of sins.
1 Peter 4v8 [TNIV]

Listening as an act of love/respect…
• heals
• restores
• strengthens

Families don’t crumble in a day…
You've maybe heard the Casting Crown song; and it's true that people don't crumble in a day - it happens as a result of each little choice made every day. The good news? You can stop the crumbling and rebuild! But you must do it Jesus' way. His is the way of love and respect, of listening with your whole heart and head.

Here's another way to think about it - Listen as an act of love/respect by:
• listening to understand
• listening without judging/condemning
• listening with courage
• listening with patience
• listening with kindness

What's our Example for loving/respecting each other?
Husbands: Love your wife just as Christ loves the church – he poured himself out for the church.
Listen to your wife just as Jesus listens to you

Wives: Respect your husband just as you respect Christ –
Listen to your husband just as you are to listen to Jesus

We don't give love/respect/listening because the other person deserves it - we give it because of our connection to Jesus. Jesus instructs us - commands us - shows us how to love the other in our life. This helps you break free from the bad cycle of revenge and bitterness. It introduces the element of grace, which is the gateway to peace.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Authenticity according to Seth Godin

Authenticity, for me, is doing what you promise,
not "being who you are".

When Anchor was started, one of the values I had for our church was "authenticity"; just be yourself. This emphasis on authenticity was a reaction against the tendencies amongst church-goers to pretend to be something they are not, to put on their happy face when they walk into the foyer - when really they are very angry, very bitter, or very depressed. Authenticity was about being yourself, about taking off the mask, about being the same person on Sunday morning as you were Saturday night. Authenticity was our response to hypocrisy. Instead of trying to convince people how good you are, how holy you are, how sinless you are, just be up front and admit you are a sinner and even a hypocrite. To be authentic was to admit to being a hypocrite.

Part of the problem with this version of authenticity is in it's reaction against hypocrisy. Instead of working towards integrity, we work towards authenticity. Instead of building character, maturing, gaining wisdom, we try to just be more of who we are right now. No vision for the future, just working harder at being the me I am right now. It's kind of hard to hold on to this version of authenticity but then at the same time hold on to expectations for life transformation.

So Seth Godin's little post on authenticity, from which the quote above originates, got me thinking. My version of authenticity is inadequate. My reaction to hypocrisy is insufficient. It's not enough to not be a hypocrite - that's a shallow vision for a life. Authenticity as action - keeping the promises I made to my wife, to my children, that's a much grander vision for a life. Authenticity in my promises to God to trust him, to follow him, to serve him - that's a grand vision. I'll never completely root out hypocrisy in my life. And I'll never be completely authentic, never completely keeping all my promises. But if I was going to put more effort into one or the other tasks - I think the emphasis on more authenticity/integrity instead of focusing on less hypocrisy is the wiser, more inspiring choice.

As my friend Cheryl Kiel says: DWYSYWD. (do what you say you will do).

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Matt's Day 2008

Every 12.30 we get together to visit Matt's grave, tell stories, and remember his life.  
And watch the kiddos run around being silly.  
Good times.

After spending some time in Huntington at the cemetery, we travel to the Lake for lots of fun.  First is a tasty feast, and then it's time for the Pickle Gift.  I won it last year, so this year I hid the gift and bought the prize...and Maria won for the first time!  Way to go Maria!

Another fun part of the evening is the stockings - instead of Mum giving us our stockings on Boxing Day, we wait till Matt's day.  
There's always neat stuff (and yummy stuff) in our big red socks!

We close the evening with lots of picture taking - always a good time!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

More Christmas 2008

Here's a small, small, small sampling of the Christmas pics we have of the family - first at Papa Ger and Grandma Rozals, then Grandma Karen's, then with Great-Grandma Simmons at Uncle Tom and Aunt Linda's, and then with Papa Jim and Naomi.

Fun at the Lake!

Fun at Karen's!

Fun at Linda's!

Fun at Jim's!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

What a Country.

The news is not encouraging.

California is about to go bankrupt. They have to set prisoners free early. They have to let state employees off a day extra each week. Students will get a shorter school year. And we all know what kind of precedent California sets for the country.

Is there anybody out there who believes the Stimulus package is a great idea? Other than the special interest groups who are getting chunks of dollars by the millions?

America is engaged in an ugly war with the Taliban in Afghanistan; the Soviet Union couldn't win there, and neither could the British before them.

Obama is going to cause great disillusion. He cast such a grand vision. But so far he is doing business as usual. There is nothing helpful about bipartisanship if the bill in consideration is majorly flawed. And don't talk about compromise as a virtue compared to doing nothing. That's just doubletalk for getting pork in the bill.

If only the Republicans were any better. Maybe the few smart Democrats (there's got to be some out there...) and some smart Republicans could get together and start a new group, come up with a better bill, tap into the common sense of the American people who don't want their economic freedom and political liberty compromised in the name of security and stablity.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Sunday Sermon Notes - 02.08.09


That's still the word for me lately. And for Anchor.

Listen and Understand.

Listen to Advice.

And now: Listen to the Cry.

It's clear from the Scriptures that God listens to the Cry. The Psalms are full of the Cry:
For he will deliver the needy who cry out,
the afflicted who have no one to help.
He will take pity on the weak and the needy
and save the needy from death.

[Psalm 72v12-13]

The Exodus was initiated by God as a response to the cry of the Israelites in bondage. God listens to the cry.
The LORD said, "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians.... And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them.
[Exodus 3v7-8a, 9]

We know that Jesus listens to the cry. And because Jesus listens to the cry, we ought to as well. Out of all the stories in Luke about Jesus listening to the cry, there is one that stands out for it's tenderness and compassion: The Widow of Nain.
Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him.
As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her.
When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, "Don't cry."
Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, "Young man, I say to you, get up!"
The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.
They were all filled with awe and praised God. "A great prophet has appeared among us," they said. "God has come to help his people." This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.

[Luke 7v11-17]

Jesus listened to the cry of the widow, and he did something about it. When we listen to the cry of those around us, we are to do something about it. Though we are not Jesus, we can still turn to Jesus for wisdom and direction for what to do with the cry. The question is not centered on what do we do with the cry that we listened to, but what does Jesus want to do with the cry that we listened to; what does Jesus want to do through us?

We have a hard enough time crying out to the LORD on behalf of ourselves and those we love; how much more harder to listen to the cries of even more people. Yet...the world is full of pain, of cries, and of Christians who won't listen. Don't be a follower of Jesus who refuses to listen to the cry.

If you are a follower who doesn't cry out to the LORD for mercy and wisdom, start crying out.

If you are a follower who doesn't listen to the cries of others, start listening. And then start crying out to the LORD on their behalf.

God has come to help his people indeed (the new Exodus)! He came through the human Jesus of Nazareth (the new Moses), and now he comes through the human Church (the new Israel)! We are the body of Christ, we are his hands and ears in this pain-wracked world. If we won't hold others and listen to their cry as Jesus, how will they know that God hears their cry?

Consider the power of listening; consider the healing power of listening to the cry.

You want to make a difference in this jaded world? Listen to the cry.

You want to see God do more miracles? Listen to the cry. And then cry out to the LORD.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Stimulus is the New Pork

$819B Stimulus Breakdown - 5% Going to Infrastructure
Posted 01-30-2009 at 01:36 PM by greenfaucet.com
By John C. Lee, greenfaucet.com

$102 B - Unemployment/food stamps
$42 B - Highway/rail/mass transit
$211 B - State gov't aid
$70 B - Healthcare/education/environment
$110 B - Business tax benefits
$165 B - Individual tax benefits
$119 B - "Other"
$819 B - Total

What is the "other" and why is only 5% of the bill going to the much-hyped infrastructure improvement program?

What is this package supposed to stimulate? If the housing crisis has caused this free-fall, and if banks (major culprits in the whole problem!) are not letting credit flow, and if jobs are thus disappearing, then wouldn't it make sense for the whole stimulus package to focus on turning the housing crisis around, freeing up credit, and either creating new employment or funding unemployment better.

David Axelrod (2.6.08), when confronted by Campbell Brown on 600 million dollars in the stimulus package going to Philippino veterans, he poopooed the spending as not even noteworthy in light of 850 billion dollars. What?!? Who is he kidding? Does he think Americans are stupid? I can think of better ways to use 600 million dollars to stimulate the economy and stop this job-loss freefall.

How much of the state aid will actually go towards stemming job loss and getting money spent. Keep teachers, police, firefighters and city utility people on the job. Maybe some money will go towards them.

I like the idea of hiring lots of construction workers for projects that will take years to complete. Too bad only $42 billion is going to them, since some engineers are saying we need two trillion to get things just up to code.

What good are tax breaks if the government is spending record numbers of money...wouldn't they want to keep revenue cycling back in? Or, are the tax breaks specially designed to stimulate the economy? Like taxes affecting property/housing issues? Or losing the death tax and estate taxes? Or how about reducing income taxes? Oh wait, that makes too much sense.

And 119 billion for "other"? Totally unacceptable. Shouldn't every dollar go to obvious, blatant, job creation/credit flow/housing recovery? And money to digitize medical records? As part of the stimulus package?

Come on Obama...focus man! Focus!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

A Novel Idea for Funding the Stimulus Package and Restoring Trust in our Leaders

Pick a team of IRS agents and have them audit every living member of congress, every management executive in the federal government, all living lobbyists, and all Wall Street executives . I bet those agents will find plenty of people that owe...oh, I don't know...maybe six digits worth of dollars in back taxes. If Tom Daschle alone owed over $100,000 in taxes, and there are a minimum of a thousand people who also owe similar amounts, well that could stimulate the economy.

Take all that money and direct it towards incentives for small business owners. Or something useful.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Sunday Sermon Notes - 02.01.09

Listen to Advice.

Not a popular sermon title. But it's one that needs to be given nonetheless.

Most people like to give advice, not many people like to receive advice. Especially when its not asked for. And especially when it is given with an air of superiority or "know-it-allness". Not all advice is good advice either, obviously. The big qualification for the advice we ought to listen to is this: wisdom.

Listen to advice and accept discipline,
and at the end you will be counted among the wise.

[Proverbs 19v20]

With all the decisions that have to be made in life, with all of the ups and downs, twists and turns, it's definitely not easy knowing what to do next. Well, when it comes to moral issues, the decision is kind of easy: if it's sinful, don't do it; if it is righteous, do it. Where we need advice is on the issues where we're not sure what the correct way to is, what the best way is, what the smart way is. Sometimes we do need advice, though, on moral issues - encouragement to do the right thing and to give up the wrong thing.

With the Super Bowl coming up, stories are emerging about the Arizona Cardinals quarterback, Kurt Warner. His story is amazing, one of ups and downs, twists and turns, and when the details emerge, you discover a man who sought out advice, who listened to advice, and who in the end is counted among the winners and the wise.

When in high school, Warner was a standout athlete in more than one sport. He received awards, recognition, and lots of praise. So when he went to the University of Northern Iowa to play football, be assigned to back-up to the back-up quarterback wasn't what he planned on. He got some good advice: work hard, listen to the coaches, do what they say, keep at it. His senior year, Warner was the starting quarterback and named offensive player of the year for his NCAA I conference. Listening to wise advice paid off.

With a great senior year under his belt, Warner was signed by the Green Bay Packers in 1994 as an undrafted free agent. They ended up letting him go before the preseason was over. Again, not what Warner wanted. But he got some good advice and found a job to pay the bills; he ended up working as a night stocker in a grocery store as well as becoming assistant coach to his alma mater's football team.

He decided not to give up on his football goals, so he joined the local arena football team, as well as playing in European leagues for three years. In 1997 he arranged for a tryout with the Chicago Bears, but due to an elbow injury, didn't make the tryout. Persevering, he contacted the St. Louis Rams for a tryout, and by a thin margin was selected to be the back-up to the back-up quarterback. His persistence paid off: he was in the NFL - he just had to keep on listening to the good advice being given to him.

He ended up being a back-up quarterback for the 1998 season and that's how he started off the 1999 season. Until the starting quarterback, Trent Green got injured during a preseason game. Warner stepped in and threw three-touchdowns in each of his first three games, making NFL history. Listening to advice paid off. Warner and the Rams would go on to win the Super Bowl that year - the most unlikely of teams. Two years later, the Rams would return to the Super Bowl, only to be defeated by a game-ending field goal, courtesy of the Patriot's Adam Vinateri.

It's a good story of how listening to wise advice and accepting correction leads to the right kind of success. For Kurt Warner, it wasn't just about success on the field, but also with his family. Warner is a man of character and ought to be counted among the wise. In 1992, while yet a senior in college, he met a woman named Brenda in a country bar. Warner was a popular boy on campus, having a great year as the all-star quarterback, but the woman four years his elder still made a point to inform him she had a three-year old toddler at home with brain damage and partial blindness, as well as a year old little girl. So what did Warner do? He showed up at her home the next morning with a bouquet of flowers and introduced himself to the children.

It would be another five years before they were married. In the meantime Brenda, a former Marine, had to put herself through nursing school, while raising her two little ones as she lived with her parents. During this time Warner was playing football around the country and the world, working to get back into the NFL. It was also in this time that Brenda's parents were killed by a deadly tornado that ripped through the neighborhood, destroying the home her parents had just retired to down South. Through this tragedy, Kurt Warner committed his life to Christ. The next year Kurt and Brenda were married, and within the next year he had adopted her two children, as well as begun to have their own children: they currently have seven in their family.

The reason why Warner failed his tryout with the Bears in 1997? On his honeymoon he was bitten by a venomous spider on the elbow. He didn't let this huge disappointment sour his marriage or dampen his efforts to get in the NFL. He tried again, and the Rams took him in. Following the great three years at St. Louis where Warner was named NFL MVP twice, life as a quarterback took a twist and a turn downward: 2002 and 2003 were a bust due to injuries and lack of focus. The Rams let him go and the NY Giants picked him up in 2004. He went 5-4 with them till the coach benched him for the rookie Eli Manning (who went 1-6).

Things got worse: the Arizona Cardinals, one of the worst teams in the league, picked him up in 2005. He started, only to be replaced by the much younger quarterback who Warner had replaced. 2006 the Cardinals draft sensational rookie Matt Leinart, who didn't turn out so well. So Warner and the rookie go back and forth, being benched. So goes the 2007 season till Leinart gets hurt and Warner finishes the season strong. 2008, Leinart is named the starting quarterback, but if Warner proves himself, he can have the job. What does Warner do? He listens to the coaches, he does everything they tell him to do, and he does it with extra hard work.

The payoff? Warner gets the starting job, and he takes his team to the their first Super Bowl in 68 years.

The way of fools seems right to them,
but the wise listen to advice.

[Proverbs 12v15]

Maybe your job or career isn't working out. Maybe your marriage is mired in frustration. Maybe things are strained between you and your children (or your parents). Maybe you are feeling depressed, unhealthy, worried, angry, etc. Don't do what seems right in the moment. When life takes an unwanted twist, when you're feeling down, look up for some wise advice, and then do it. Do the next right thing; seek out wisdom when the way seems unclear. Which is why we pray - not to whine but to get the Spirit's direction on what to do next. Which is also why we read Scripture - to uncover what God has already directed people to do in situations similar to ours. Which is why gathering on Sundays with your friends is so crucial - sometimes you just need to get out and with others who will help you do the next right thing.

Get Wisdom.

Listen to Advice.