Thursday, January 28, 2010

Sunday Sermon Notes 1.24.10

What's your deathdate?

Everybody knows their birthdate, but do you know your deathdate? Of course you don't! But...

Even though we don't know when we'll die, we know we won't be living forever on this Earth. We'll die someday. At least by... when?

Do you think you'll make it to at least 90? 80? 70 is the average. So how old are you now, today? How many years till you hit 70? Or 80? If I make it till 80 I've got 45 years left. What will I do with 45 years? What will you do with the years you have left?

When we think that we have all the time in the world, we tend to squander our time. Life is a gift of God. And Jesus Christ is our model for how to make the most of our short, swift days. Jesus has garnered the reputation of walking in peace, of being generous with love - and all this with only 33 years under his belt.

What kind of reputation will we have when we die?
What kind of reputation will we build with the years we have left?

Paul outlines some key tasks for the man, for the woman, who wants to make the most of the years they have left on this Earth with the people God has put in their life to influence. The saint of Tarsus writes:
So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline.
Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense.
Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you.
And regardless of what else you put on, wear love.
It's your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.

Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other.
None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness.
Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. 
Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way
When you consider what constitutes a great life - well, Paul sums it up best. When you contemplate what kind of habits and practices will produce a fruitful, good life, Paul's recipe is best. And it all starts with an acceptance of the way of Christ in the world.

Here's something else to ponder, it's a thought taken from a letter written to Hebrew Christians in distress:
Everyone has to die once, then face the consequences. Christ's death was also a one-time event, but it was a sacrifice that took care of sins forever. And so, when he next appears, the outcome for those eager to greet him is, precisely, salvation.

If we don't ever think about death, we haven't really thought about our life. Death can be a motivator for making the most of these days. But what we do with these days has consequences for the life to come. For the Christian, we hope in the resurrection when Christ returns.

What we do with our life these days will shape our anticipation and celebration when Christ returns. Our bodies are like a seed for the resurrection body, and our deeds are like seeds for the life to come. What we do today matters for a long, long, long time. So whatever you do...

Your Life Together with the people God has brought to you – are they a Gift or do you take them for Granted?

Who are you Becoming on purpose, or are you just Drifting? Love and Peace come from intentional choices made moment by moment day after day.

Jesus’ Same Spirit of Adventure is available to you these days. Are you bored? Are you wandering? Make the most of your days - let Him lead you forward.

Is Death for you a . or a ; ? Do you fear death? Do you accept death? Does it motivate for the good? Does it paralyze you for too long?

Resurrection… do you hope for it?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

October 2009

Lotsa fun! That's how we remember October. And that includes potty training for Eli. It was a piece of cake for the boy - thanks to his mommy's secret strategy! Eli went shopping with Tara and picked out his new pull ups, as well as his special snacks (salty!) and drinks. He was ready for training to start - he want's to be like his big brothers.

Eli was quite content to sit and read while he waited... :) By the end of the weekend he was getting pretty good, and by the end of the next week he was a pro!

October included plenty of time playing outside in the leaves, on the swings and in the fort. It also included pumpkin carving - Grandpa didn't have his garden this year, so instead Tara took the kids to a farm in Leo. The kids had a good time picking out their pumpkin - each one was unique; I made sure they picked out an ugly one for me. When it comes to using the Cutco knife, Tara is in charge. Did you know she sold them while in college? They're still sharp and dangerous seventeen years later!

I'm proud of my boys - they know how to make a fun event disgusting. I tried to stop Isaac from chowing down on the pumpkin guts...

Levi saw how much his brother enjoyed the pulp and wasn't going to miss out!

Eli didn't want anything to do with the guts, but Emma was brave enough to try it.

Aargh! The pumpkin monster!

Each pumpkin has it's own personality, influenced by the imagination of their carver!

Ooooooooo... scarrrrry!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

You're Gonna Die...

What if you were told today by God that you had two years left of life on Earth? 

What would you do to make the most of those twenty-four months? What would you change about your life? What would you change about you? What would you seek to accomplish? What would you work to become? What would you want to be remembered for? What would you want to finish?

A friend remarked to me the other day that he was pondering the above question. So now I've been pondering it. In thinking about my impending death - whether it is imminent or not, it is inevitable - I muse about the morbidity of this all. Is it proper to ponder death like this? Is there any benefit to reflecting upon my approaching death in the days or decades to come?

Since my friend has caused me to think about death and life in the next two years, I'm inviting you to now reflect up on it. I'd be interested to read your responses.

This death announcement from God to you in the next twenty-four months does not include any information about how you'll die, where you'll die, or with whom you will die. But God does intend this death announcement to be a source of inspiration, not depression - a prompt for renewed passion, not permission to pout.

So: what if you you were told by God today that you had two years left of life on Earth? 
What would you do to make the most of those twenty-four months?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Sunday Sermon Notes 1.17.10

So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you:
compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline.
Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense.
Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you.
And regardless of what else you put on, wear love.
It's your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.

Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other.
None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness.
Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house.
Give it plenty of room in your lives.
Instruct and direct one another using good common sense.
And sing, sing your hearts out to God!
Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way
Colossians 3v12-17

When it comes to the differences between men and women, instead of it being a point of celebration, it's often fuel for stereotyping. The differences become obscured and become a source of confinement rather than a catalyst for more creative and beneficial work. Thus it is common to assign traits to men or women that are really gender-neutral. And, by over-focusing on gender-differences, we neglect the more important work of how to getting in tune with each other, how to stay in step with each other.

...we're one, but we're not the same,
we've got to carry each other...

Opposites attract - we know that. We also know that opposites can annoy. Similarities in people can be a point of solidarity, but also a source of clashes. When it comes to relationships between men and women - whether in the workplace, school, church, or at home - we can't take gender issues out of the equation, but when it comes to relationships, gender is a factor. Especially when it comes to communication - always an essential component of healthy relationships.

Thinking and talking are partly a function of the brain, and when it comes to what makes people different, it can be helpful to explore what makes left-brained and right-brained people different. Interestingly, women are able to use their whole-brain much more easily then men. Male brains are bigger, but have less connectors between the two halves; female brains have an over-abundance of connectors, allowing them to use left and right brain functions when it comes to communication in particular.

What's interesting with the list below is that it includes traits that often get attached to gender issues, but in fact are primarily a brain-function.

uses logic .............................................................  uses feeling

detail oriented
  ......................................  "big picture" oriented
facts rule
imagination rules
words and language 
 ................................  symbols and images
present and past  .........................................  present and future
math and science ...............................  philosophy and religion
can comprehend
  .............................   can "get it" (i.e. meaning)
 ...............................................................  believes
  .......................................................   appreciates
order/pattern perception ..............................  spatial perception
knows object name
  .............................   knows object function
reality based .......................................................  fantasy based
forms strategies  .......................................  presents possibilities
practical  .............................................................  impetuous
safe .....................................................................  risk taking

Here's a brief assignment: make a choice on which list best describes your behavior. This will reveal to you whether you operate primarily out of your right brain or left brain when it comes to choices, communication, completing tasks and involvement in relationships.

Second brief assignment: who are the top ten or fifteen or twenty people in your life at home, school, work, church, etc who influence you, who affect you, or for whom you are responsible for, have authority over, etc. Mark down which side of the brain they tend to operate out of.

As you compare and contrast the different important people in your life in regard to right brain and left brain tendencies, does this help explain some situations, some conflicts, some attractions, some experiences?

* How does this knowledge help create new possibilities for improving some male/female relationships in your life?

* What are some differences between males/female relationships that you can better appreciate?

* How does this knowledge help you develop a new strategy for how you will improve some of the male/female relationships in your life at home, at work, at school, at church, etc.?

* What’s a practical step you can take this week, based on your new knowledge, that will help improve your male/female relationships?

The goal of all this analysis and reflection and changing is to let the peace of Jesus Christ rule in our hearts and homes. It is really hard work to be in tune with all the influential people in our life. The closer we work with someone, the more we rely on someone, the more expectations we have for someone, the harder it is to stay in step. So, we must keep working, keep learning, keep maturing, keep listening, keep realigning our walk with the way of Jesus - the way of peace.

Monday, January 18, 2010

One Hundred Years Later...

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves, who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we've come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a cheque. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of colour are concerned. Instead of honouring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad cheque which has come back marked 'insufficient funds'.

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is corrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so we have come to cash this cheque, a cheque that will give us upon the demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is not time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

~ Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., August 28th, 1963, Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C., from Speeches that Changed the World

Friday, January 15, 2010

Neighborhood Churches Unite!

What's it take for a church to help make the neighborhood a better place to live? If people are going to drive from all over the community to worship in a church facility, how is that neighborhood better off because of that weekly event? If a local congregation were to shut the doors, would the neighborhood notice? Would they cheer? Or would they protest and insist you stay part of the neighborhood?

A bunch of the local pastors in the Anchor neighborhood keep finding ways to serve our neighbors, to be a blessing to them. We met Thursday morning with Judge Charles Pratt to discuss with him how churches could better serve families and children in our neighborhood - particularly those involved with the courts and prison system. Judge Pratt was clearly delighted to discover that our churches were willing to learn and come to grips with how big the problem is, and willing to learn what we can do to help.

All of our churches have families in them who are dealing with the court system, who have a loved one in prison or recently released from prison. And as we get more involved in the lives of these families, the situation gets more complicated. Where is the line between empowering and enabling, between empathy and cynicism? And do we need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to being helpful? Who else is doing something good and can we learn from them, even join them?

Jesus insisted that he came to "proclaim freedom for the prisoners". What's that look like today in a developed nation that incarcerates a greater percentage of its people than any other? If Jesus wasn't pro-anarchist, and if Jesus insisted on repentance for forgiveness, and if Jesus is to be recognized in those who visit prisoners, what is a church to do? What does our neighborhood need us to do? What does the courthouse need us to do? What does the prison-industrial complex need us to do? What do prisoners and their families need us to do? What does God need us to do?

Peter Janzen, pastor of First Mennonite Church, sent around a copy of his devotional that morning:
The Lord says, "See, I am doing a new thing!" Isaiah 43v19
But I believe that God calls unlikely persons to do the extraordinary. I don't know what lies in my future, but I do know that God may call all of us to do "new things." If we believe this and trust, God will equip us...
It's obvious God is at work in our neighborhood, and he is bringing prisoners to our churches. What a gift! And now the amazing and intriguing and beautiful work continues of helping more men and women and children experience restoration and reconciliation.

Our next step is to meet again with Judge Pratt to develop more details about what we can do to help. We also want to use the Lenten Series to educate and inspire our churches to get more involved with this work. We've spent the last couple of years as local neighborhood churches feasting and worshipping together on the Sunday evenings of Lent. This year we'll continue the feasting, but we'll also do some work - getting wisdom on what the Spirit is up to and how we can join in.

Who are the co-conspirators collaborating together in our neighborhood for this new thing?
Peter Janzen, First Mennonite Church
Dave Altman, North Highlands Church of Christ
Hal Thomas, Faith United Presbyterian Church
Larry Maddox, Three Rivers Wesleyan Church
Steve Cain, Trinity United Methodist Church
Tim Hallman, Anchor Community Church.

I'm pretty sure Grace Presbyterian Church will be in on this with us, and we're hoping Trinity Evangelical Lutheran will join us, as well as some more churches in the neighborhood.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Sunday Sermon Notes 1.10.10

What's the difference between a male and a female?

And no, it's not the opening line of a bad joke. It's an honest question. What if we could do some digging and discover more of the real differences between male and female?

What if what we discovered not only explained what made the relationships so difficult but also so enjoyable? And what if we discovered that most of the differences that we attributed to maleness and femaleness was mostly personality styles, fight/flight styles of dealing with conflict, and traits inherited from family and other life experiences?

Here's the text we're starting with, the Scripture that is shaping this whole conversation. It's important.
So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline.

Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It's your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.

Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness.

Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God!

Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.

What's it take to be in tune with someone of the other gender? What's it take to stay in step with your spouse, with your kids, your folks, your family and friends of the other gender? Knowledge and understanding go a long way towards being in tune, being in step.

Without being too simplistic, but trying to avoid too-much data, here are three differences between male and female that directly affect the kind of relationship they can have.
* physical anatomy
* brain usage
* hormones

For the sake of this message, we'll focus on the differences of brain usage to help explain some common situations that can often be "unhealthy" between males and females in a family.

Here's a little quiz for you to see how well you know gender differences and brain influence:
Who is more logical, men or women?
Who is more emotional, men or women?
Who is more creative, men or women?
Who is more intuitive, men or women?
Who is more analytical, men or women?
Who is more objective, men or women?
Who is more subjective, men or women?

What's unique about women is that they have so many connections between both sides of the brain compared to a man. Both genders use both sides of their brains, and both genders tend to have one side of the brain dominate over the other. But since women can access both sides of the brain almost simultaneously is worth considering when it comes to interactions with men.

Left Brain
Right Brain
Looks at parts
Looks at wholes

Click here for more info. And here.

How does this play out in a day to day scenario? A woman can more easily multi-task than a man. Especially when it comes to verbal and spatial tasks. A woman can cook dinner using a recipe while talking on the phone and take in the news program. The man can cook dinner, or talk on the phone, or watch the news-program. A woman can think about her emotions easily, a man has great difficulty analyzing how he feels. Either he analyzes, or he feels. Women tend to be detailed oriented, but they can also easily keep the big picture in mind. Men have a very difficult time doing that, it's either the forest or the trees while in a conversation. You're not ignoring your wife talking to you, it's just that you're reading the newspaper and you can't discern words from the noise coming from her mouth. You're not saying "I don't know" because you are trying to avoid answering the question, but it's very difficult to analyze an intuitive decision.

Why is it worth knowing this information? It helps when a woman knows that a man doesn't communicate like other woman, and that what seem to be to her normal relationship questions aren't to the man. And it helps for men to understand why their experiences are often misunderstood by women, and why they don't intuitively understand women like they do other men.

Did you know that the hormone testosterone affects the connections between the brain. The testosterone decreases the connections between the two-halves of the male brain, thus a man uses just one side at a time, whereas a women can go back and forth easily since she has so little of that hormone in her bloodstream in comparison to a man. 

All of this to say, the differences between male and female are to be celebrated and understood. According to Genesis 1, males and females are essential to each other to accomplish in this world what God intended. Neither difference makes one better than the other, and the emphasis isn't on equality either, but about male and female fitting together to accomplish something more beautiful than if alone.

My hope is that this basic research will prompt you to do some of your own, to do some reconsidering, to make some changes in your attitudes or stereotypes of the other gender. And may it lead you to celebrate the great gift of male and female. We're made in the image of God to bless the world. And whatever our differences are, no matter how well we understand them, we're still called to love, to be in tune, to stay in step.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Faster, Richer, Amazinger

Starting my twelfth full year at Anchor prompts a lot of reflection. Well, the start of any year is a good time to think back and think ahead. And this year also starts a new decade. The start of my next decade at Anchor. That's weird to write.

When I sit back in my office chair, put my hands behind my head and look around, and look back, remembering all the people and events of the past many years... I'm overwhelmed by how fast it has all seemed to go by. And it only seems to be getting faster (which is what everyone who is older than me says happens...). How quickly the time went. I think back over the times spent with so many great people, wonderful families, all the friends that have come and gone over the past twelve years. It's with regret that there is no pause button; instead the time just goes by faster and faster.

But the accumulation of all those experiences and memories only serves to make today richer. It's layer and layers of conversations and crisis' that have flown by, that have made these days full of a new and fresh richness. It's like dipping my hands deep into a bowl of rememberings, and pulling them up letting the reflections dribble out of my fingers. So many to try and hold onto, but not all of them can be clung to at any one time. So many are forgotten, until something flys across my radar and reminds me of something funny or grateful or painful.

This all adds up to a life that gets amazinger and amazinger. Life is becoming more unexplainable and yet more predictable. The mystery deepens and yet the learning is ceaseless. The capacity of hearts to change is amazing, and the stubbornness of pride is still annoying. And it all cycles around faster and faster, and yet it moves forward somehow making life richer. Life is amazing. Ministry has been amazing. And hard. And confusing. And rewarding.

I'm thankful and overwhelmed because of Anchor. Thankful and overwhelmed for the faster, richer, amazinger life that has been given to me.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Fall Concerts and Family Races

Some neat stuff happened in September. For example, Emma continued her toothless phase.  She's always a little nervous when a tooth gets wiggly, but she's always happy at the prospect of money appearing beneath her pillow!

The boys began their second year of preschool. Though they were a bit concerned about getting new teachers and new classmates, they were ready to give it a try. Levi and Isaac didn't talk a whole lot the first couple of weeks, but they had fun playing at the different activity centers.

A highlight of the month was the U2 concert in Chicago! Tara and I traveled up to the show with our neighbors Phil and Reena. Click here for more about the weekend!

Another highlight of the month was the Fort for Fitness Run.

Tara did the four-mile last year, and she trained to run the thirteen mile this year. She also roped me into running the race this year. Not only me but Amy also ran the four mile this year.

A neat feature was the Kid Marathon. During the summer kids logged how many miles they ran, totaling it up to 25.2, and then on Friday night they run the last mile through the city and end up crossing home plate! I got to run the last mile with her - there were hundreds of kids participating - which made it a lot of fun.

Here's the all the fans who came to cheer Emma while she finished her marathon!

Emma crossing the finish line!

Toothless, tired, and happy!

After Amy and I finished our four mile, Karen and Rozal brought the kids to the stadium so we could all watch Tara complete her mini-marathon. We had a good time hanging out, cheering for all the different people we knew crossing the finish line. Papa Jim walked/ran the four mile, so he joined up with us afterwards, so did Aunt Loretta and cousins Michael and Julie. Jen Johnson and her friend hung out with us a bit. So did HU President Blair Dowden! Our neighbors Phil and Reena (who placed second for women in the four mile!) stopped by too.

Tara and her running partner Jen cross the line together! What an achievement!

A happy Tara with four relived children (can we go home yet?)!

The racing sisters Amy and Tara!

Tara inspired me to attempt the thirteen mile next year. She, of course, is determined to run it again - and faster! We enjoyed preparing for the race together, and we look forward to many more years of running. Surprise, surprise, now Tara's talking about a full marathon in Chicago!

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Brit Hume, Tiger Woods, Jesus and Buddha

If not for Tara, I may have totally missed the controversy swirling around Brit Hume's advice to Tiger Woods. Here it is:

What's controversial about what Brit Hume said to Tiger Woods?

It seems that Brit is genuinely concerned for Tiger, his life, his family, his future. According to Hume's understanding of Christianity and Buddhism, both provide a path to peace, but one offers atonement and redemption, the other something insufficient. It's obvious that Hume, who is a practicing Christian, considers his religion to be superior to Buddhism, thus his advice to Tiger. In his compassion towards Woods, Hume extends what he believes to be a better path to restoration of Woods soul, family, and future contribution not only to golf but humanity.

Apparently, though, there are lots of people who think that all religions are equal. Even very smart people believe this. But it is a naive position to hold. It denigrates all religions. Judaism, Christianity and Islam all insist that their way is the only way. They can't all be right. And thus Hinduism and Buddhism are not right, or any other religion. Is it possible for a Christian to love a Jew or a Muslim or a Buddhist, but still think that their religion is incorrect. Of course.

And of course there are people that mock Brit Hume, not because he advises Tiger Woods to seek restoration through Christ, but because Hume recommends religion as an option. Many secularists who are anti-religion (not all secularists are anti-religion, though they consider religion unnecessary) are either misconstruing Hume's attempt to help Woods, or just plain making fun of him.

Jon Stewart uses humor (which made me laugh) to mock Brit Hume and his suggestion.
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The Best F**king News Team Ever - Tiger Woods' Faith
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

It's obvious that Stewart and friends do not allow for religions to be different - they must all be equal, despite what each religion actually asserts. Sorry Stewart - you are funny, and you make some valid points, but you miss the point.

Tom Shales (never heard of him) of the Washington Post (which I read once in awhile) lashed out cruelly at Hume. It seems that Shales disdains religion as a whole, and is appalled that a fellow journalist is reaching out with compassion through religion to a celebrity. Which reveals the shamefulness of Shales' perspective and his attitude (and understanding of religion).

Huffington Post and NPR provide a fairly neutral report of the situation. USA Today online trends towards disagreeing with what Hume did. They also provide links to reactions by Buddhists who are offended by what Hume suggested.

First Things, a Catholic site, gives a rundown of all sorts of reactions to Hume, and then gives an interesting response.

So what do you think is the issue here?

Are all religions equal, thus no proselytizing of any kind?

Should journalists stay completely neutral on religion - one of the most powerful forces in the world?

Should Christians refrain from using public forums to comment on other religions?

Is Brit Hume being misunderstood? Is Christianity misunderstood? Is Buddhism misunderstood? Is the role of religion in public misunderstood?

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Sunday Sermon Notes 12.27.09

What's the last word for Anchor in 2009? As the pastor, if there was anything I could say that would capture what is most pressing and vital for our congregation, for our lives, for our hearts, it would be this: Love Always Hopes All Things.

My Mum got me hooked on quotes, always been a collector of them. In high-school and college I'd regularly skim through Readers Digest, ripping out the quotes page and putting them in a file or on my wall. Good quotes stop me, make me reconsider, help me sort out a new perspective, give permission to go the right way.

A quote I discovered over a decade ago as a young minister shaped the rest of my life: People are not dying of starvation around the world for lack of food, but because they have no hope. Bob Seiple spoke those words as President of World Vision - a Christian organization committed to getting empty bellies full of food and hope. He knows what he is talking about - and it inspired me to do ministry that gives hope.

And so today, as we end one decade and begin another, as we end one year and begin another, as I reflect on the stories of the lives of Anchor, and the stuff that is going on in our homes - I need to remember - and you need to remember: Love Always Hopes All Things. This is a quote from Soren Kierkegaard, and he gets his quote from a deep and thorough reflection on 1Corinthians. Earlier in the month I posted some quotes from Kierkegaard on this topic - you can click here to find them. They're good, thoughtful ideas.

And it's worth meditating, chewing on what Paul writes about love and hope:
If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don't love,
I'm nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.
If I speak God's Word with power, revealing all his mysteries
and making everything plain as day,
and if I have faith that says to a mountain, "Jump," and it jumps,
but I don't love, I'm nothing.
If I give everything I own to the poor
and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr,
but I don't love, I've gotten nowhere.
So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do,
I'm bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn't want what it doesn't have.
Love doesn't strut,
Doesn't have a swelled head,
Doesn't force itself on others,
Isn't always "me first,"
Doesn't fly off the handle,
Doesn't keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn't revel when others grovel,
[Love] Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
[Love] Puts up with anything,
[Love] Trusts God always,
[Love] Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
Love never dies.

Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end;
understanding will reach its limit.
We know only a portion of the truth,
and what we say about God is always incomplete.
But when the Complete arrives,
our incompletes will be canceled.

When I was an infant at my mother's breast,
I gurgled and cooed like any infant.
When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good.

We don't yet see things clearly.
We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist.
But it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright!
We'll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us,
knowing him directly just as he knows us!

But for right now, until that completeness,
we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation:
Trust steadily in God,
hope unswervingly,
love extravagantly.

And the best of the three is love.
[The Message]

When it comes to the people in your life, we know there is a real need for more love to be taking root in our life. We need to be capable of giving more love more often, we need to tap into something more powerful than our own soul to find the strength to say and do what love would prompt in the difficult situations we get into.

What is the parameters of the kind of love God has already been pouring into us? What is the kind of love we are able to pour out because of the Spirit within us? This is what Paul is so eloquently writing out for us: an inspiring vision of what kind of love we could bless our world with - if we let God continually love through us.

And out of all the different ways that love shapes the world, the one I'm focusing on for the past year and the one coming up is Hope. It's interesting that the church community we are connected with is named Anchor. We get that name from a piece of Scripture that goes like this: We have this Hope as an Anchor for the Soul, Firm and Secure. What does this mean? We are a people who are honest about our need for hope, and who are inspired to be a source of hope for the people connected to our lives. If you have eyes in your head and a heart that beats, how can you not notice all the people who are connected to you that are dying of starvation from lack of hope?

Marriages end for lack of hope. Parents and kids drift apart for lack of hope. Co-workers embitter each other for lack of hope. Students and teachers increase the chasm through lack of hope. Hope for what? The Possibility of the Good. Hope is the possibility of the good. When we say that love always hopes all things, we are saying that love always believes in the possibility of the good in all things. In every person in every situation in every moment there is always the possibility of the good.

How is this possible? Because God is always good and with Him everything good is possible. In our world full of suffering and pain and blunders and brokenness, the only kind of good we will be experiencing is what comes out of our sins or the sins of others.

It's sin - ours or someone else's - that causes the disintegration and corrosion of a relationship. It is sin that erodes hope. But it is God's love that undoes sin. It is God's love that we hope in, and it is through God's love that we love others - and look and be part of the possibility of the good in every person in every situation. Because of God's work in the world through Jesus, we can keep hoping, keep being part of the possibility of the good.

Don't you want to be part of a movement of people who are known for their hope-full love? Aren't you tired of seeing people die because they quit hoping? Wouldn't you like to discover the capacity to give a love that always hopes all things?

That is what Christmas is all about... my friend.