Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Man Who Couldn't Stop...

There was a man who was driven by something deep inside him. It kept him moving forward, it kept him alive in the midst of terror and storms and long stretches of loneliness. His story is an inspiration to all those who must endure unwanted hardships, who must bear the burden of suffering over vast stretches of time. Over the years this man's story has been a key to digging deep and taking that next right step. Maybe you need to get to know a man who couldn't stop.

The story of Louis Zamperini and the story of Paul of Tarsus - they are both stories of men who couldn't stop. To read more about Louis, you can read a review in TIME magazine (11/22/10, pg 106) of a new biography called Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand, reviewed by Lev Grossman. There's a great Wikipedia article, as well as an interesting overview of his life called Lucky Louie. Mr. Zamperini also has his own biography out called Devil at My Heels. Read about Louis Zamperini - you'll learn that he was a gifted runner, an Olympian, a trouble-maker as a kid who'd box the bullies until they whimpered. He was an Army pilot taken POW on the Marshall Islands after floating in the Pacific for 47 days.  After surviving the sea and the torture, he returned some years later to share a message of forgiveness.

Soon after Louis was released from his captors, he was quoted saying: "If I knew I had to go through those experiences again, I'd kill myself." Eventually Mr. Zamperini found redemption from his terrors, finding healing through the message of Jesus. Louis would return to Japan to speak about the forgiveness of Jesus. He would travel for many years as an inspirational speaker, letting others find hope through his hardships.

When we read about the Apostle Paul in Acts 28, he's just crawled to shore from a shipwreck. It's raining, yet the locals have built a huge fire to warm up the survivors. In the spirit of being helpful, Paul grabs some brush to throw on the flames, only to get bitten by a viper. The shocked natives assume that Paul is a murderer finally getting justice. Everyone's watching, waiting for him to crumple to the ground, writhing to his death.

He doesn't show any effects of the viper bite, they then assume he is a god. Paul is quick to denounce this deduction - he knows the truth, and the core of his message is about the One and Only God. This God has put the Same Spirit of Jesus on him, driving him forward to share a message of forgiveness in Christ. No snakes, no shipwrecks, no stonings, no imprisonments, are going to stop Paul from fulfilling his task. He is a man who couldn't stop.

What about you? What stops you?

You may not face the trials of Louis Zamperini on the ocean or in a POW cell, and you may not face the troubles of St. Paul in shipwrecks and shackles on the ankle. And yet the hardships you must endure are still hard... and you are tempted to give up on doing the next right thing. The trials and troubles you face may not always be in your home or your own heart - they may be the burdens your friends carry. And as a Christian we are called to carry the burdens of one another.

As a Christian, you are called to be like Christ, to fulfill the tasks God has chosen for you. God only asks you to do difficult tasks - ones' that require trust and courage and faith and endurance. They may start off small, but the further on you go, the bigger the challenges and obstacles. To carry the burdens of one another - this is your task, this is your calling. Are you the man who gives up? The woman who gives up? Or are you the one who couldn't stop...couldn't stop loving, couldn't stop forgiving, couldn't stop carrying the burdens of one another.

Christ taught us to pray: Our Father...your kingdom come..your will be done on earth. Louis spent the next part of his life living out this prayer. As did Paul. And so can you, with the Same Spirit of Jesus. The one who couldn't stop...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Eve

Lots of moments today that prompt me to be thank-full:

Before Tara read stories tonight, the boys put on a "play", a comedy of sorts. It consisted of one boy wandering around the middle of his room, then getting ambushed by Eli, and then trounced on by the other brother. This produced hilarious giggles from them, and smirks from the audience. It was humorous, in an absurd sort of way.

Tonight was bathnight, which means lots of splashing and laughing. And screaming - this being a result of me rinsing them off with freezing cold water.

Emma wanted me to carry her around like I used to when she was seven months old. Seven years ago this meant holding her so that her back was to my chest - she had to be able to see what was going on. Now my little girls' got these long legs, but she's still just as squirmy!

Tara insisted I make a huge pot of coffee this morning before I left for work. My wife craves Starbucks coffee. She delights in the aroma of coffee wafting through our home. Oh the gratitude!

Today I got to spend some time studying for my sermon. At Starbucks. Drinking Christmas Blend. That combination alone is enough to fill my heart with thankfulness. But I also get to see some of my favorite baristas - Erin, Jenn, Max, and Stephanie. And I got to talk with some new friends - Jodi and Crystal. Oh, and free refills on the cup of coffee if you pay with your registered Starbucks card. Which, of course, I always do.

In the afternoon I spent some time helping some friends sort through some stuff. A conversation on the phone, a chat around a table - it's always a good feeling to make a contribution to someone's life. I appreciate the opportunities to hear the stories of friends and neighbors, to really listen.

I wrapped up my afternoon by sorting my files, making new files, cleaning up my desk. A dull duty, except that all the files remind me of the great tasks that I get to be part of. Files of the people I am counseling, files of the organizations Anchor is collaborating with, files of reports on strategic information. I am grateful for these files; they are the challenges that come my way - it means I have to dig deeper to help come up with a better solution. And I get to do this with a great staff: Thanks Patti, thanks Carla, thanks Bob & Becky!

I wish I could get together with my best friends more often. It was good to hang out at Samantha's with Don Gentry on Monday. I always need that conversation over gargantuan omeletes. And Jeremy Kratz is stuck in Arizona. I guess that just means I've got to get over there more often! I'm thankful for their wisdom, their points of view, and their loyal friendship. And they laugh at my jokes. Well, not really laugh, more of a polite chuckle. Actually, not even that. I'd say maybe more of a mocking sound.

We've been preparing for Thanksgiving feasts at Grandma Karen's and then Aunt Shirley and Faye's. I'm thankful merely at the thought of huckleberry pies and mashed turnips, deviled eggs and corn casserole! And my gratitude for my family is BIG! Tara and I have lots of family, and we are blessed. Some we don't get to see as much, but we are thankful for those we are able to be with so much. We are glad to have so many memories being made with our family at the holidays, on Sundays at church, birthdays, summer vacations, and those special moments when you get together just because...

Thank you God for the fantastic people you let me share life with. The laughter, the sharing, the memories, the food, the trips, the misunderstandings, the achievements, the walking life's road together. Thank you.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Friends, you really should have listened to me…

"I told you so!"

These are dreaded words. Usually coming from the mouth of a mom, this phrase can make you wince no matter who utters them. To hear this remark from someone you were trying to prove wrong...ouch. It's not so bad hearing it from a friend, but to hear it from a stranger makes it worse. And to hear it from someone you respect... well that just shows you how obstinate you were.

"I told you so!"
Why is it that we have such a hard time listening to advice? Especially from those who care about us, who we know are wiser than us, who want the best for us? How many mistakes could we have avoided in life had we just listened to the words of wisdom and put them into practice? Unless, of course, you don't have any friends that are wiser than you.  In that case, you need some new friends.

"I told you so!"
This is essentially what the Apostle Paul is telling his shipmates in Acts 27. They were all seasoned sailors of the Mediterranean Sea, and they knew the dangers. The date had passed for sailing, it was time to put in to harbor. But the ship was loaded with grain for Rome, and the shipowner and captain wanted to keep sailing. They had found a small harbor for the winter which Paul approved of, but they wanted to head around the edge of the island to an even bigger and better harbor for the three month hibernation. Paul warned them that one more day of sailing might be their last day of sailing ever.

"I told you so!"
The morning started off fair and warm, the slight breeze was all the encouragement the crew needed to head out to sea for the next port. But by the afternoon a nor'easter had swept in, and everyone knew they were doomed. It must have been hard for Paul to keep his mouth shut and to make sure he wasn't catching the eye of the captain and shipowner every five minutes. Why hadn't they listened to him? Now they were caught up in a storm that could be the end of each and every one of them. Argh!

"I told you so!"
Paul finally gets his chance to speak to the crew, he gets to say: I told you so! But he also gets to give them assurance that they all will survive, if they listen to him. God had reminded Paul of his promise to him: you shall arrive in Rome. With these words printed on his heart, Paul encouraged everyone on the ship to take courage. The hitch: you gotta listen to me! At one point some of the crew try to lower a small boat for escape, but Paul is alerted to it and warns them. The captain smashes the escape vessel. He's learned his lesson.

"I told you so!"
With Paul's promise that everyone will survive, there is also words of reality: we can't avoid a shipwreck. We'll be losing our cargo, we'll be losing our ship, we'll be losing everything but our life. Had you listened to me, we'd still be on Crete sipping drinks on the beach. But now we'll be escaping with only rags on our backs. That's how life works: you fail to heed advice and wisdom, and then you must bear the unwanted consequences. If you let God intervene, he won't take away the consequences, but he'll provide a way out...if you'll listen to him. The consequences are costly, but God can help you start over again. If you'll listen to him.

"I told you so!"
Here are some words of wisdom for the storms you are in. Sometimes we have multiple storms swamping us. Being married, having kids, dealing with your parents, keeping up friendships, putting up with your classmates or fellow coworkers - every relationship is a potential storm ready to break loose. Some relationships are easier than others, some more rewarding than others, but each one of them requires you to act wisely. In order to do the next right thing, you need advice from those who are older and more mature to help you. Here you go:
Fools are headstrong and do what they like;
wise people take advice.
Proverb 12v15 (the Message)

Refuse good advice and watch your plans fail;
take good counsel and watch them succeed.
Proverb 15v22 (the Message)

Listen to good advice if you want to live well,
an honored guest among wise men and women.
Proverb 15v31 (the Message)

Never argue; repeat your assertion.
~Robert Owen

He only profits from praise who values criticism.
~Heinrich Heine

"Do-so" is more important than "say-so."
~Pete Seeger
Paul stood in the ship in the midst of the storm and reminded his crewmates: "Friends, you really should have listened to me..." May you have friends who will speak truth in love to you, in the midst of your storms. May you have friends who are willing to enter into your storm with you.

May you be the friend who is willing to enter into their storm.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Jesus in Fort Wayne

It seemed appropriate to join in only a few weeks before the Christmas season on a gathering called Incarnate.  Thanks to Andrew Hoffman of NeighborLink Fort Wayne for his involvement in making this event happen. What's the best gift that Christians could give our city this Advent? A Jesus that makes a difference.

Incarnate, made flesh - Christians believe that Jesus is God Incarnate; Emmanuel - God with us. Christians also believe that the Church is Jesus Incarnate. It's vital that each local church is serving it's neighborhood, is loving one another, is living in truth and grace - all in the name of Jesus. It's a breath of Heaven when these local churches collaborate together to seek the peace of the city, to be a blessing to the community.

That's what NeighborLink is all about. It's what Anchor is all about. And having spent Friday at the gathering labeled Incarnate, there are lots of local churches, ministry leaders, non-profits, and individuals who are all about living according to the Same Spirit of Jesus. The Incarnate event was a great opportunity to start new relationships, strengthen the bonds of already forged friendships, and soak up the air of building momentum. It is invigorating to see these like-hearted people brought together.

Of course it's always easy to pronounce good intentions. Talk is cheap. And yet words and promises and meetings matter. Covenants are born out of spoken agreements. The collective enthusiasm for a missional life must be expressed in action, or else it will wither. Time will tell which of the individuals and organizations are able to live out this covenant. God has called us in Fort Wayne - he has blessed us, he is making us a blessing, and if we are willing he will bless the world through us.

We can't predict or control what the outcomes of this service to our neighbors will produce. We have to trust that doing the next right thing will contribute to a day when everything is made all right. The vision is not so much for an end product, but rather for the day to day decisions that lead to Jesus Incarnate.

At the Incarnate gathering, my resolve was strengthened to continue the journey Anchor is on. God is doing some amazing work in Anchor and through Anchor. Makes me very grateful. What makes it so thrilling is to be doing this work in collaboration with so many people and organizations. And it's so fun to continue meeting more people with a similar heart and spirit. The Same Spirit of Jesus is driving all sorts of men and women to do great work where they live - and to come together to do more together than they can do all alone, doing more to make things all right.

Some day God will make everything all right. It won't be in our lifetime. But it is deeply fulfilling to be part of a grand work that will outlast us. Well, actually, it won't outlast us... thanks to the resurrection!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Starbucks Thanksgiving

Many good things come from Starbucks.

I've made a bunch of friends there over the years. Saw Lisa at McAlisters on Sunday at lunch! Got to chat with Valerie Monday morning. Erin's got a great smile, Shelley's got that friendly wave, Stephanie's got that friendly "Hi Tim!" Rebecca's usually got a good story about her remodeling projects. And the rest of the crew puts up with my lousy jokes.

I've also got to meet people from the community there. After hanging out for so many years, seeing the same people again and again, eventually you get to chatting. It makes it fun to be there.

Yesterday Matt Kennedy and I were there to work on the Christmas sermonseries. A guy I had met a few months ago came up to me with this question: are there any families in your church who might need help with a Thanksgiving dinner?

What a great question! Where else but Starbucks do I get this kind of opportunity? I told him that I was sure there are at least three families that would need help. He seemed kind of surprise - "are you sure there aren't more that need help?" I looked at Matt - "ummm... yeah, I'm sure there are." I didn't know how many meals he was willing to buy.

He wanted to know how soon he could get the food to me. I was thinking later in the day or the week. Or even next week. He wanted to know if he could do right now. I said I'd be there working with my friend Matt until about 11am. The man said, "I'll be right back."

About a half hour later I look through the window and see him pull up to Starbucks -  he motions to me and I head out. He opens up the trunk - packed full of food! Six frozen turkeys, six big bags of potatoes, a huge box of sweet potatoes, boxes of stuffing and bags of rolls! Amazing! He helps me unload it into the back of my van. It was a really special moment. God provides in very interesting ways...

As we shook hands, he asked: "I just need the name of your church, remind me again..."
"Anchor Community Church."
"Ah yes, well be sure to let me know if you've got more families you want to help."

Good things come to those who hang out at Starbucks!

Happy Thanksgiving, friends.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Choose Light

The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians,
who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door
and deny him with their lifestyles.
That is what an unbelieving world simply finds
~ Brennan Manning

Is there anything more beautiful then helping someone dispel the darkness within? What is more inspiring then when the flickering flame of one touches the barren wick of another? Hope to the broken, faith to the cynics, love to the lonely - does this describe the Christians you know?

Obviously it's impossible to eliminate hypocrisy - there will always be Christians who deny Jesus with their lifestyles. Who hasn't failed to live up to their confession of Jesus as Savior and Lord? We can't stop the darkness of denial, but we can light more candles.

You can let more light into your life. You can confess the darkness that still dwells within. You can still repent of your denial-saturated lifestyle. You can still demonstrate your repentance through your light-inducing deeds.

The Gospel writer Luke records for the third time Paul's account of how he became a Christian, of how he made the turn from darkness to light. The crucial turn in the story is when Jesus appears to Paul, confronts him with reality and tips his candle to spread the flame. Here's how Paul tells it in Acts 26:
"One day on my way to Damascus, armed as always with papers from the high priests authorizing my action, right in the middle of the day a blaze of light, light outshining the sun, poured out of the sky on me and my companions. Oh, King, it was so bright! We fell flat on our faces. Then I heard a voice in Hebrew: 'Saul, Saul, why are you out to get me? Why do you insist on going against the grain?' 
"I said, 'Who are you, Master?' 
"The voice answered, 'I am Jesus, the One you're hunting down like an animal. But now, up on your feet—I have a job for you. I've handpicked you to be a servant and witness to what's happened today, and to what I am going to show you. 
"'I'm sending you off to open the eyes of the outsiders so they can see the difference between dark and light, and choose light, see the difference between Satan and God, and choose God. I'm sending you off to present my offer of sins forgiven, and a place in the family, inviting them into the company of those who begin real living by believing in me.'

The task that Jesus gives Paul is also the task of the Church. It's what you'd expect from a bunch of Christians who routinely get together for worship and instruction and prayer and meals and service-projects. You'd expect the Church to be a place where followers of Jesus can tell a story of what Jesus has said to them about life. You'd expect the Church to be full of people who accept the identity as "sent ones" to serve in the name of Jesus. You'd kind of expect the task of witnessing and serving to be pretty important to Christians.

Paul's version of witnessing and serving, though, were fueled by his personal experiences of being turned from dark to light, from the power of Satan to the power of God. Witnessing was not about Bible-bashing and guilt-inducing. Serving was not about changing the world or patting yourself on the back. Witnessing and serving were about entering into the life of those around you, bringing the light in your life into their life. And about you letting others bring their light into your life.

What fuels the light within your life? The more good you do in the name of Jesus, the brighter the light within. The more good deeds you do in obedience to the Way of Jesus, the more darkness you dispel within and around you. Demonstrate your turn from darkness through your deeds. Your lifestyle reveals the truth of your repentance. You can say that you belong to Jesus all you want, that you are right with God, that you are a good person.

Jesus brought a message of light. If you have no darkness within, then does Jesus have anything to say to you? If you see no darkness around you - if you care not about the darkness around you, can Jesus say anything through you?

You have been sent to bring light - as a witness to the light you have already seen, and as a servant of the light for others to see. The more darkness you see within, the more darkness you see around - the more you'll want the light to prevail.

Rather than denying the darkness within or around you, walk out the door and live by the light Jesus has given you. 

Monday, November 08, 2010

Whining & Wilting

Every morning you get to make a decision about how you are going to face your day. You can usually anticipate what your schedule will be, you may know ahead of time most of the people you will encounter. And you may be able to predict that there will be some surprises in store. So you get to choose: will I be whiney today when things don't go the way I want? Or: will I wilt and give up when things end up being harder or more difficult than I want?

We expect circumstances to play out in our favor, and when they don't, we whine. Or wilt, if the consequences are heavy and confusing. We become unprepared for how hard life can be, and then we have no real alternatives to whining and wilting. People around you refuse to change, and you are stuck with a way of life that is draining. Or worse. So what to do?

There's a story of the Apostle Paul in Acts 24, being unjustly accused, and he's thrust before a corrupt governor. Paul's been in prison for two years, the odds are stacked against him that he will get the right sentencing. He's given a chance to speak and defend himself - what will he say?

Consider: what if he had spent the past two years whining and wilting? Would he be ready for this moment to defend himself? It was customary for Roman officials to allow family and friends to provide for prisoners - to bring food, clothes, medicine, books, and any other items the prisoner needed. With two years of this, Paul could have spent his time being ungrateful and complaining, he could have made a big fuss and thrown a fit. Or given up. Wilting would have been normal for a lot of us.

When you read the story, you notice something about Paul: he used his wits. When presented with the opportunity to defend himself, to speak the truth, and put himself in a position where justice would prevail, he used his wits. Paul spent all that time in jail preparing himself for the one moment he was maybe going to get to defend himself. Instead of whining and wilting, he used his wits to do the next right thing.

The challenge to Paul was how to think calmly and clearly in the midst of his demanding situation; to be mentally sharp and inventive with his problem solving. In the time leading up to his time in the court, he thought through the potential scenarios. He thought through what the governor might be like, he thought through what the accusers might be like, he thought through what his options might be - and then when given the chance to speak he used his wits to help make the next right thing happen.

If Paul had spent his time in prison whining and wilting, he wouldn't have been mentally sharp and inventive, he wouldn't have been able to use his wits. The ability to think calmly and clearly in the midst of a demanding situation results from doing your homework instead of whining. Paul had become an astute observer of people - he was able to calmly discern what the quirks and habits and patterns were of people with power, and thus able to be inventive with his responses in the midst of disturbing situations.

Life rises and falls on your ability to successfully deal with people. And this includes yourself. You can whine and wilt at how difficult other people are to deal with, or you can use your wits. You can whine and wilt at how hard it is for you to change and mature and grow up - or you can use your wits. Get to know how other people operate - get to know how you operate - and then use your wits to help the next right thing happen. Whining and wilting are guaranteed ways of undermining your ability to do the next right thing.

Using your wits - thinking calmly and clearly in the midst of a demanding situation - this will help you do the next right thing. This is a skill that must be cultivated, bit by bit, scenario by scenario. Becoming mentally sharp and inventive happens over time - if you put forth the effort. Especially when you hang out with others who are also using their wits. It's usually always hard to do the next right thing, but it's worse when you're all whiny, and impossible when you are wilting. So use your wits instead to do the next right thing.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Looking Weary

Last night was Anchor's annual Neighborhood Halloween Maze. It was another successful night of great food, lotsa fun, and plenty of neighborhood kids with their folks. After twelve years of serving our community like this, we've earned a reputation - many people come back year after year, and we do no advertising. And some of the families that come back again and again prompt me to pray harder; they look so weary.

It's not just that it's been a long night of trick or treating, or that they have a big crowd of little masked kids with them. You can see the deep lines in their faces. Families my age, maybe ten years older, but looking like tired octogenarians. What hard life produces those kind of tired cheeks and flat smiles? Is it stress from never having enough? Is it anxiety over a disability which makes for big obstacles to employment? Is it anger and bitterness at lost opportunities? Is it the look of poverty?

I'm glad Anchor has a servant-attitude towards it's neighborhood. I'm thankful that we have members who catch a vision for a project like this, and then make it happen. It was a powerful experience last night to walk into a teeming Foyer of rowdy kids and hobnobbing parents, the smell of hot soups and bowlfulls of candy: and hearing the excitement about how many neighbors had come for the Maze - into the hundreds!

In providing a fun evening for the neighborhood kids, our hope is that we can provide more help for more families on more than just Halloween night. Our challenge: to walk alongside those who are looking weary. In the name of Jesus we bring good news to the poor. A crucial step for us? To actually be good news for our neighbors, to do good and help make the neighborhood a better place to live. And that means learning about what is making the moms and dads to look so weary. What was it that Jesus said? Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

Jesus resumed talking to the people, but now tenderly. "The Father has given me all these things to do and say. This is a unique Father-Son operation, coming out of Father and Son intimacies and knowledge. No one knows the Son the way the Father does, nor the Father the way the Son does. But I'm not keeping it to myself; I'm ready to go over it line by line with anyone willing to listen.

"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."