Sunday, February 28, 2010

You Gotta Serve Somebody...

You may be a state trooper,
you might be an young turk;
You may be the head of some big TV network
You may be rich or poor, you may be blind or lame;
You may be living in another country under another name.
But you're gonna have to serve somebody,
yes You're gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

~ Bob Dylan

It's Lent, that season of change in the Church when we are given an opportunity to remember, reflect and repent. To repent is to accept the need to change, to admit reality, to avoid denial of wrongdoing and start taking steps to remedy and renew the situation, the relationship, the heart. Obviously remembering and reflecting are crucial to this journey. Which is why Lent can be such a gift to a family, a community, a neighborhood, a home.

For Lent at Anchor this season, we're remembering what many including Bob Dylan have written and sung and preached and learned: you're gonna have to serve somebody. For you, who's it going to be?

When we pause to consider it, there are lots of people we serve: family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, teammates, classmates, etc. For some of these people, it's a joy to serve them, for others, not so much. Once we realize that we're already servants to many others, it doesn't have to be a hard step to serve God. For all the people we want to serve well, serving God is the best way to serve others best.

For some of us, we aren't just servants to other people, we are also slaves. We are enslaved to the opinions and attitudes of others, their judgements and critiques. We are enslaved to our addictions, addictions to approval, to pleasure, to success, to substances, etc. We are enslaved by tragedies of our past, by our expectations of the present, by our fears of the future. We are burdened, we are oppressed, we are chained down, we are afflicted in so many ways. And into these situations the Lord comes to set us free. This is the story of Exodus, of God coming to rescue the Israelites from the Egyptians.

God came to the Israelites while they were slaves to Egypt, and offered them freedom - a way out of slavery. But this kind of delivery is built upon a relationships - the Israelites trade slavery to Egypt for servanthood to Yahweh. Israel isn't set free so they can do anything they want, Israel is set free so the Lord can make them His servants. Israel is to be a kingdom of priests, God's nation in the world to bless the earth and everyone in it. Quite the different vision than Pharaoh had for the Israelites.

Who do you serve? There are lots of people that you serve, people that you'd like to serve better. Choose to become a servant of God, this is the best way to become the best servant you can be to others. It's also the way you find freedom from what enslaves you, from what burdens you, from what oppresses you. God sets you free from slavery of the mind and of the heart in order to make you His servant of love and shalom in the world.

You gotta serve somebody. Serve God and become somebody able to set others free. Remain indecisive about serving God and you will miss the rescue attempts - both for yourself and those whom you could help. God needed Moses to rescue the Israelites. God needs you to rescue your family and friends, your neighbors and coworkers, your teammates and classmates.

Will you let God rescue you? Let God rescue others through you. 

Monday, February 22, 2010

Church, Community, and the Court System

What's it take to make a neighborhood a better place to live? Lots.

It takes all sort of key people within the community to care, to collaborate together, and to be helpful. The churches in a neighborhood ought to be the most obvious place for this kind of helpful, collaborate care. Well, that's the attitude that Anchor has, along with a bunch of churches in our neighborhood.

I have to say, I was very, very, very proud of Anchor - nineteen of us showed up for the first of four meetings with Judge Charles Pratt and our neighborhood churches. We're meeting together to learn more about how Judge Pratt's Family Court operates, as well as how the court system works for juveniles and adults. By learning how the courts work, we better learn what role the church can play - to be helpful to the courts and to the community.

Our church is becoming home to more and more individuals and families that are currently dealing with the courts and/or prisons. Or it's a part of their past, and is still yet affecting their life. As the church embraces and disciples more people with this stuff going on in their life, more and more wisdom is needed to be more and more helpful.

It's an honor to have Judge Pratt so eagerly partner with our coalition of neighborhood churches, to instruct us and invest in us. And we are eager to help him be more effective as a judge.

Yesterday First Mennonite Church hosted our meetings, led by Pastor Peter Janzen. Judge Pratt introduced us (some of us for the second or third time...) to the 40 Assets, a key component to helping families actually change for the good. He then walked us through a case study of a little girl who was allegedly molested by her father. Judge Pratt explained how his court worked, how DCS gets involved, how foster care gets involved, and how different decisions by the parents create different potential outcomes. Sad and fascinating stuff.

It's important for churches to be emotionally supportive of families involved with DCS, but to not enable them, or to nurture any kind of disregard for DCS. There are many sides to one story, and it's always wise to accumulate facts before making decisions to "help."

Next week Dr. Steve Cain of Trinity United Methodist is hosting, then Anchor, and then Rev. Laura Sherwood of Grace Presbyterian. Rev. Hal Thomas of Faith United Presbyterian is also involved. Rev. Dave Altman and North Highlands Church of Christ, Rev. Larry Maddox of Three Rivers Wesleyan, and Rev. Don Sandman of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran are also interested and involved in our coalition, willing to find ways to help make our neighborhood a better place to live.

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

This is the kind of work we are doing. The Same Spirit that was on Jesus is at work within and amongst us. As churches, we want to be good news to the neighborhood. We're getting there...

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Sunday Sermon Notes 2.14.10

Rarely do people mull over the expectations they have for other people. Either we're pretty confident in our expectations, or we are oblivious to them. But how do you know if your expectations need adjusted? How do you know when you need to lower your expectations for other people (and yourself)? What are clues that your expectations are corrosive?

Do you find yourself constantly irritated by other family members? Are you regularly irritated at their seeming inability to measure up? Is it common for you to let even the littlest of things irritate you? Usually when you get irritated, you assume it's the other person's fault. But what if we assumed that your irritation is your own problem, not theirs? What if we put the burden on you to quit getting so irritated, instead of demanding everybody else to abide by your standards?

Do you find yourself regularly disappointed by other family members? Is it common for them to let you down? Are you often complaining about how your family is a disappointment to you? Usually when you get disappointed in your family, you assume it's their fault. But what if your being disappointed was your problem, and not theirs?

The expectations you have for your spouse, your kids, your parents, your brothers and sisters, your family and friends are often your primary source of irritation and disappointment. If you want to be less irritated and less disappointed, then lower your expectations. Better yet, get a clearer grip on reality, and then adjust your expectations accordingly.

Too many people hold expectations for their family that are not based on reality, they are based on fantasy. You hold in your head and heart what you wish someone would be like, what you wish they would do for you. And then you hope and wish they will please you. And then you get irritated when they don't fulfill your wishes as completely as you wished, and you get constantly disappointed.

Dealing with reality is a gift you can offer to yourself and your family. Be honest about your desires that you have for your spouse, kids, parents, bro and sis, your family and friends; be honest and open about them. And then don't demand or expect everyone to fulfill your desires. Instead, be constantly grateful when somebody does fulfill a desire. In fact, you have permission to go out of your way to help other people fulfill your desires. Make it easy for other people to fulfill your desires. Sometimes we make it so hard for people to make us happy.

Paul writes to individuals and families, to husbands and wives, helping them connect the dots when it comes to expectations for their home, for desires of peace and love. Here's what he writes:
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.
Wives, understand and support your husbands
by submitting to them in ways that honor the Master.
Husbands, go all out in love for your wives.
Don't take advantage of them.

We forget sometimes the context that Paul wrote this stuff. You are safe to assume that the wisdom he sent to his friends was radical and subversive and tinged on rebellion. It went against the grain of society, and yet it was like seeds for a whole new way of running a home. Paul's stuff still has that radical, fresh twinge to it. Consider it from this point of view:

Wives: Jesus is your model for servanthood and leadership to your Husband

Husbands: Jesus is your model for sacrifice and empowerment to your Wife

It's easy to take for granted the servanthood a wife pours into her marriage. And its all too easy to overlook the leadership she gives that sustains a marriage. Wives can get bitter and soured on servanthood and leadership in their home when it goes unnoticed or unacknowledged. And wives can hold out for themselves all sorts of expectations for how to serve and lead in their home based on models like: their own mothers or grandmothers, celebrities, neighbors, etc. But a wife is at her best when she patterns her servanthood and leadership after the Way of Jesus.

It's hard to find good models for husbands these days. It's not often you hear about husbands that regularly make sacrifices for their wife. If they do, it's often with a grimace, not a smile. And where are the models for husbands to empower their wife, to help them blossom and grow and stretch? Too often husbands fuel expectations for their wife to be a sex-object, or their second mom. But husbands are at their best when they pattern their sacrifices and their empowerment to their wife after the Way of Jesus.

Both husbands and wives need to serve and lead, to sacrifice and empower, and they both need to know how Jesus did this stuff. Jesus regularly took the servant role, even though he was the greatest one in the group. Jesus knew how to make decisions that were win-win-win for everybody involved - both short-term and long-term. Jesus was willing to make the necessary sacrifices without complaining, yet aware of the cost. And Jesus made it a point to empower those around him - men and women - that they might do even greater things than him.

Desire the Way and Peace of Christ, let it keep you in step with each other. And wear love.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


In my work as a pastor, I am privileged to hear the stories of men and women, of their lives, of their brokenness, of their achievements, of their questions, of their heart. Each story I hear is a gift. It is a humble moment to be trusted with a story.

As I scroll through the myriad of stories in my mind, I get a perplexing mosaic of humanity. We - humanity - are a complex part of creation. So much capability, so much goodness, so much beauty, so much innocence, so much delight. And yet... the terror, the fear, the bewilderment, the abandonment, the disillusionment.

I've had my share of heartache, my quiet despair, of rage. But I've also not been through the hell that marks the journey of too many of the people I have met. My life has been full of blessings and gifts. It's been a good life. I still find stuff to complain about, to fret about, to obsess over, to underappreciate. So what can I do with my life, in light of all the people I have met who have had many more hardships, much more severe sadness, so many more tears?

If people had the strength to change, they would. But they don't. At least not on their own. They are too tired, or to weak, or worn out. It's like there is a need for someone who has been given much good to reach out and share it. This is what Bill Fisher did for me. And Dan Boen. And Tom Ayers. And Don Gentry. And my Dad and Mom. And Tara. And Joanna.

Where is God in all of this? The world can have the feel of swirling madness. Here's the instruction that God gives to those who seek a way of renewal and reconciliation in our fracturing and frustrating existence. This is some of what God has to say to those who want to make a better world:
We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak
and not to please ourselves.

We should all please our neighbors for their good,
to build them up.

For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written:
"The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me."
For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us,
so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures
and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement
give you the same attitude of mind toward each other
that Christ Jesus had,
so that with one mind and one voice
you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you,
in order to bring praise to God.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

November 2009

Here we are hanging out for my thirty-fifth birthday. I don't care if it sounds cheesey, but my one wife and four kids are the best gift! They make me smile and laugh, and I'm thankful I get to care for them and inspire them. And eat cake with them. And play MarioKart Wii!

Grandma Karen came over to blow out some candles to celebrate her birthday. We won't say how many flames should have been flickering on her cake, but we're glad she could blow them out in one try!

A favorite way to wind up an evening is by the fire. And tell stories. About a dragon. Named Bob. I'd spin my yarn, and then each kid would go around telling their version. Each one got more and more ridiculous, usually some outlandish adaption of my original account of Bob the dragon. 

It was a fun surprise to have Troy and Tammy Ray hang out with us for the evening. Elena and Josiah had fun playing around with our crew!

A highlight of every November is helping Aunt Shirley and Aunt Faye set up their outside Christmas decorations. This year we went a few weeks early to get the work done - it was a beautiful Sunday afternoon. I'm sure glad we listened to Tara. This time.

As you may know, Tara and I will never have a pet dog or cat in our house, despite the fact that our kids are fond of them. Much to their delight they found a stray cat roaming the alley, a cat that loved to be picked up and hauled around. Kitty now lives with Shirley and Faye, but the kids are the "owners"!

Thanksgiving at Grandma Karen's house! Emma insisted on getting dressed up. We're glad she did!

Thanksgiving at Aunt Shirley and Aunt Faye's!

Part of our Thanksgiving tradition is to spend the night so that we can set up the outside decorations on the next day. Friday events have evolved over the past twenty years. For about a decade we would get up at the crack of dawn and hit the stores for Christmas sales. Sometimes we'd travel to Fort Wayne, usually Marion, or we'd stay in Huntington. We'd get hungry - especially as chubby middle schoolers, so we'd go out to eat for breakfast. Nowadays we shun early-morning shopping and prefer to stay in our pj's all day. We sleep in, we make cinnamon buns with icing and then made-to-order omelettes! And Wii all day. This all helps us feel very thankful!

Our final Thanksgiving of the month was with Papa Jim and Grandma Naomi. The kids always have fun with the toys in the basement and the trainrides!

Of course we had to get Papa Jim a Wii!

Papa Jim is notorious for his jokes. And I'm Mr. Gullible. He gave me a cup of coffee, which was nice of him. But when I drained it dry, I let out a mild yell: there was a nasty looking cockroach in my mug! The kids were a bit nervous about peeking inside the contaminated cup. Good times, good times.

Sunday Sermon Notes 1.31.10

Sometimes where we work can cause stress. This is not news to you. However, it might come across as good news that God wants to help you with your relationships at work. It's easy to only think about God on Sundays. But the Way of Jesus has much to offer those of us who have to relate to and work with other people.

Paul was a man who worked with his hands, who worked with a myriad of different people in multiple countries, probably dealing with guild rules and Empire economics. Out of his employment situations and his understanding of the Way of Jesus, here's what he has to say to his friends in Colosse about work and relationships:

Servants, do what you're told by your earthly masters. And don't just do the minimum that will get you by. Do your best.
Work from the heart for your real Master, for God, confident that you'll get paid in full when you come into your inheritance.
Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you're serving is Christ.
The sullen servant who does shoddy work will be held responsible.
Being a follower of Jesus doesn't cover up bad work.

And masters, treat your servants considerately. Be fair with them.
Don't forget for a minute that you, too, serve a Master—God in heaven.
Pray diligently. Stay alert, with your eyes wide open in gratitude.

It's worth noting some of the employment situations within the Roman Empire, which is the context from which Paul is living and writing. Much of the work done in the Empire was done by slaves. Lawyers, doctors, teachers, managers, accountants all would have been slaves for their masters. Slaves also had the roles of sanitation, gravediggers, pigfarmers, and other grimy jobs. And a slave had no personal rights, they were ruled by their master.

As the Christianity spread through the work of Paul and the other Apostles, many masters and slaves were becoming followers of Jesus. This caused some consternation: masters were known for being cruel, petty, and unfair in their treatment of slaves. The influence of the Gospel was transforming master/slave relationships. Imagine a worship service where master and slaves sing and pray in the name of Christ as co-equals. Life on Sunday greatly affected life on Monday. It's this emerging development that Paul is giving guidance to.

So for us today, even though we don't have an economy based on master/slave relationships (though it can feel like it at times - see the Dilbert comics below...), there is still some clear application points to takeaway from Paul's writings. Here's Five Steps to Walking in the Way of Christ at Work  (Check off the one step you need to take this week at work…)

 Do what you’re told with a smile.

 Do you’re best. No excuses.

 Do what’s considerate and fair.

 Don’t whine. Instead, pray and thank…

 Do your work for God. Everyday.

 Bonus Step: Wear Love.

When you consider the simplicity of these six instructions, it is tempting to dismiss them as unrealistic and dumb. But when Paul writes out these guidelines, he's doing so out of the realities of his own employment situation within the Empire. You have an opportunity to be different, to not let the people at work ruin your heart. No matter how complicated and difficult your relationships are at work, you can begin to subvert what is wrong and plant seeds of what is right.

I've included some Dilbert comics that connect with the six steps mentioned above. Paul's commands are so straightforward, and when it comes to application - it's within a sometimes absurd work-place environment. The Way of Jesus will often be at odds with the how work-relationships can degenerate with other employees or your bosses. But the Way of Jesus can also renew and offer a new path forward for peace at work.

Enjoy Dilbert!