Friday, January 28, 2011

Where Would It Take You?

It's late summer. You've snuck into your old school to explore and play and hang out. Of course there's the risk of getting caught - that's the whole point. You and your pals are running the halls, trying doorknobs to see which ones are unlocked. As you race through, you find an unfamiliar hallway. Catching your breath, you all saunter down, surprised to find a new space to discover in your old school. You resume shaking the doorknobs. They're all locked. Except for a rusted door wedged shut. Pushing and kicking, prying and grunting, it reluctantly scrapes open. You can feel a breeze, a musty smell rushing at your face. 

As you and your friends squeeze through, you wish you would have brought a flashlight. You've found the  abandoned entrance to a very old tunnel. You've heard of the famous limestone mines - and now you've discovered a secret opening. What lies below? What's behind the myths and legends? Will you come back?


National Geographic had a compelling article on the mines below Paris. You should read it. There was an paragraph in the article that caught my attention. It mentioned that there were access doors to these mines located in schools! Imagine that - wandering through your school and discovering a door to the limestone mines. It's the making of a great adventure story. If I were a writer, I'd play around with that concept. 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

We Can Always Find Time...

We are all overworked and tired and the bad conscience over things that we cannot do wearies us as much as the things we can do.

Living means choosing.

But do we always choose freely and consciously? Is our choice not frequently forced on us by circumstances, by our faint-heartedness, our habits or even our guilts?

What do you feel guilty about these days?

I'm re-reading through a book called Guilt and Grace by Dr. Paul Tournier. It's prompting me to think of how guilt shapes my life. As I consider the influence of guilt in my life, the list gets longer and longer.

Guilt is profoundly a relational issue. I feel guilty for not spending enough time with Tara. I feel guilty for not spending enough time with Emma, Levi, Isaac and Eli. I feel guilty for not spending enough time with my parents, my brother and his family, Tara's family, and my friends. I feel guilty for not spending enough time with members of Anchor. I feel guilty for not spending enough time alone. I feel guilty for not reading the books on my shelf I bought. I feel guilty for being overweight. I feel guilty for not doing enough to get healthier. I feel guilty for feeling guilty. Argh!!!

We can always find time to do what we really wish to do.

When I have a lecture to prepare, or a piece of work like this study, I always promise myself to take my time and do it carefully. Then I keep putting it off, I have difficulty in settling down to it, just because I am very keen on doing it well and am afraid of failing. I find all sorts of other things to do first.

Does this describe you? It describes me profoundly. Especially when it comes to my sermon preparation.

The subtle thing about this is that by wasting time, I am building up a sense of guilt which I need to drive me to work. It is as though I were building up the power of an auxiliary motor which will get me moving. On the eve of the lecture a moment will come when I shall feel so conscience stricken at having prepared it so badly that I shall rush to it, just as one must jump into the water from a burning ship. It will be a kind of excuse for the inadequacy of my work: it is a pity if it is less good than I would have wished, but I must be satisfied with what can be done in a hurry.

These paragraphs are convicting to me. And guilt-inducing. Sigh. But it is the truth, and that is important to face.

Time belongs to God, and we are stewards of time, we are responsible to him for every minute that he gives us. We all feel that if we listened to Him more carefully, our lives would be more harmonious.

And less driven by guilt. And more by grace.

Are you aware of the ways that guilt is driving your life?
What would your list look like?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

It's Always About Something Else

It's not easy to understand sometimes what is going on in your own life. Why do you do what you do?

We like to think that we are intelligent, logical creatures - so we try to make sense of the messes in our life. Our efforts to make connections, to come up with explanations, might get an A for creativity, but a C for reality. Maybe even a D or an F. Sometimes we just don't know why we do what we do. As you consider your life, it's helpful to remember: It's always about something else.

Here's some thoughts from Rob Bell and his book Sex God on the connections between sex and spirituality - two things we don't normally associate with each other:

Jewelry, pictures, sculptures made by children, antiques that have been in the family for years, art projects, velvet paintings - we hold on to them because they point beyond themselves.

If we were to ask you about a certain picture and why you have it displayed in such a prominent place in your home or office or why you carry it in your purse or wallet everywhere you go, you'd probably respond by talking about the people in the picture, where it was taken, when it was taken.

But that would only be the start. Those relationships and that place and that time are all about something else, something more. If we kept exploring, you'd probably end up using words like trust and love and belonging and commitment and celebration.

So it's a picture, but it's more than a picture.

This physical thing - this picture, trophy, artifact, gift - is actually about that relationship, that truth, that reality, that moment in time.

This is actually about that.

Whether it's what we do with our energies

or how we feel about our bodies

or wanting to have the control in our relationships

or trying to recover from heartbreak

or dealing with our ferocious appetites

or the difficulty of communicating clearly with those we love

or longing for something or someone better,

much of life is in some way connected to our sexuality.

And when we begin to sort through all of those issues surrounding our sexuality, we quickly end up in the spiritual,

because this

is always about that.

It's always about something else.

Something deeper. Something behind it all. You can't talk about sexuality without talking about how we were made. And that will inevitably lead you to who made us. At some point you have to talk about God.

Sex. God. They're connected. And they can't be separated. Where the one is, you will always find the other.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Tension of Talking to Your Kids and Teens about It

It's not easy to talk to your kids and teens about it. Especially in a healthy, mature, nurturing, wise, helpful, biblical way. When it comes to it, our children aren't angels, and they aren't animals. Not talking to your kids is a form of neglect, it's damaging, and it leads to pain. Talking to your kids and teens while laced with shame, embarrassment, and nervousness definitely sends the wrong message.

So that means that parents have a lot of work to do if they are going to prepare well for initiating conversations that will span years about sex. Better than the conversations, though, is the atmosphere of the home, the everyday actions and attitudes of the parents when it comes to marriage, faithfulness, love, faith, intimacy, affection, and satisfaction.

Here's more on the subject from Rob Bell and his book Sex God:
The impulse in our world when faced with tension is to come up with the seven steps or the formula so that if you do things in the right order the tension will go away.

But that doesn't always work. One of the marks of someone who has experienced significant growth in their soul is their ability to live in the midst of the tension.

Often people are told, "Just don't have sex and you'll be fine." Well, yes, that's true, to a certain extant. If you're talking to a room full of junior high students, they will be much better off if they learn the fine art of self-control. But it's larger than that. Because they are still full of raging hormones. Much like the rest of humanity.

To simply tell them to ignore the animal and be the angel puts them in the awkward place of trying to ignore something that is very real and very new, something central to who they are.

We have to talk about everything we're experiencing. Repressing and stuffing and refusing to acknowledge never works. Whether it's a friend or a group of peers or a priest or a pastor or a counselor, we have to get it out.

Some friends of mine started a website where people could talk about their struggles with their sexuality, and right away it received several hundred thousand visitors. Several hundred thousand.

You are not alone. Whatever you struggle with, whatever you have questions about, you are not alone. It doesn't matter how dark it is or how much shame or weakness or regret it involves, you are not alone.

Your kids and teens will need to talk about sex. "Where do babies come from?" And so on. The older you get, the more intense the questions, the more raging the desires and urges. And the more difficult to talk about. But the conversations are crucial. Especially when a parent can tell their son or daughter, "me too."

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Call me Saltman

What do you know about salt?

It's been really fascinating to read about the world history of salt. Mark Kurlansky has revealed the role salt has played in the shaping of the most crucial events of cultures for thousands of years. Who knew salt was so influential? His book Salt is a must read for world history buffs. 

Prior to refrigeration, salt was a primary tool for preserving meats, especially fish. This was a big industry in the ancient world, as well as the medieval and during the Industrial Revolution. Still is in many parts of the world.  The country with the best salt mines and marshes had opportunity for immense wealth and power. Food is so essential to life (duh!), and most everybody who has ever lived has really liked their food better with salt. Salt is essential for feeding your livestock. Salt is also important for caring for wounds and infections. 

World history has always been interesting to me. But I've never read about the centrality of salt to the rise and fall of economies, of empires, of armies. In America, during the Civil War, salt production was a key factor in the weakening of the South's strength. The Union would regularly target their few salt works and shipments- most famous was the blockade of New Orleans. 

Interesting trivia - in England a town name that ended with wich was one with a saltworks: Dunwich, Ipswich, Horwich, Droitwich, Middlewich, Nantwich, Leftwich, Northwich, and Sandwich (yes, the place where we get the famous bread/meat lunch menu item!). 

The one detail that was personally very interesting was the connection of salt to my family name. There's been lots of speculation of the origins to Hallman. The most common account is that it comes from the days that our family manned the halls of the wealthy. Something like that. But in Salt (starting with page 54), I've come across an even more likely story. 

The salt mines found in the region of Austria were manned by many Celts during the Roman Empire. What do you think the Celtic word for salt is? Hall. Quite a few towns in that region of Europe start with the word Hall - because it was founded due to its saltworks. Hallein being the most famous. See also Halle. And Hallstatt

A lot of Hallman's claim to have German roots. What seems more likely is that we have Celtic origins, we worked the saltmines of the Hallein region, and earned the name saltman, or hallman. With migration and evershifting boundaries of nations, Celtic Hallmans became German. And we became farmers that emigrated to Pennsylvania and Ontario. And eventually Fort Wayne!

A Hallman was a Saltman. Finally - the elusive answer my family has been wondering about for ages! Thanks Mr. Kurlansky for the clues!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

When Helping Actually Helps

My friend Don Gentry urged me to work my way through this book - When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor...And Yourself. I bought it, and today I'm digging into it.

Both Don and I have had many conversations about how our churches can help the poor and low-income families in our communities. With compassion and wisdom, we want to discover best-practices.

Don pastors in one of the poorest counties in Michigan. I pastor in one of the poorer neighborhoods of Fort Wayne. Don's church has done some great work with area churches to care for the poor. Anchor has hired a Community Connections Director to help care for the poor and low-income families in our church and neighborhood and city.

But still the question remains: what's the best way to help?

I'm hoping this book will help Don and I move forward, to help our churches blossom even more in providing really good help to the men and women and children God brings to us in response to their prayers for help.

Here's a quote from the opening chapter that was convicting to me:
First, North American Christians are simply not doing enough. We are the richest people ever to walk the face of the earth. Period.

Yet most of us live as though there is nothing terribly wrong in the world. We attend our kid's soccer games, pursue our careers, and take beach vacations while 40 percent of the world's inhabitants struggle just to eat every day.

And in our own backyards, the homeless, those residing in ghettos, and a wave of immigrants live in a world outside the economic and social mainstream of North America.

We do not necessarily need to feel guilty about our wealth. But we do need to get up every morning with a deep sense that something is terribly wrong with the world and yearn and strive to do something about it. There is simply not enough yearning and striving going on.

Second, many observers believe that when North American Christians do attempt to alleviate poverty, the methods used often do considerable harm to both the materially poor and the materially non-poor. ...these methods are wasting human, spiritual, financial, and organizational resources, [and] these methods are actually exacerbating the very problems they are trying to solve.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

When You Are Lost

Lostness, darkness, confusion, fear, rage, hurt, fogginess, uncertainty - this is life for too many of us. Midnight in the ER, listening to the wailing and frustration of someone who is lost - it breaks my heart. It is crucial to admit lostness, to accept it, to no longer want it. But then what? 

When you are lost, don't give up on being found. 

When you are lost, keep yearning for getting unlost. 

When you are lost and confused and searching for a better way, a more right way, keep reaching out for help.

When you are lost in your heart, when you have lost your way, when you have lost your morals, when you have lost your trust, when you have lost your love, when you have lost intimacy, when you have lost friendship, when you have lost peace, when you have lost faith... you can be found again. 

You can begin again. You can make things right - more right than they were before. This is what God does in the world, working through men and women to help bring foundness to lostness, bring healing to wounds, to make right what has become wrong and broken. 

When you are lost, are you willing to be found? To begin again? To discover how to make things more right? 

When you are lost, you don't have to walk alone. 

When you are lost, pray. 

When you are lost, God is still with you. 

When you are lost...

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Who Are The Dumbest Christians?

What makes for a dumb Christian? Are Evangelical Christians some of the dumbest around?

Here's an excerpt from Donald Miller's blog on this topic:
So here is what I surmised: American culture has become a consumer culture, and a large demographic within the culture simply does exactly what they are told, as long as what they are told promises a pay off of some sort.

They do not ask questions. They trust you if you seem trustworthy. Many evangelical leaders, then, simply become info-mercial-type salesman, selling their understanding of the truth to this large demographic. Most of them are extremely well intentioned, and do remarkable ministry around the world for the poor.

The dumbing down of what we must loosely call truth is just a sign of the times.

Of course there aren't any Christians who would claim to be the dumbest. But it's not only evangelical Christians that are dumb. Is it possible that you are a dumb American if you do what you are told in the hopes of some sort of pay off? Pick a health magazine. Pick a get-rich-quick book. Pick the better-sex-column on a website.

The definition of dumb is the obsession with guaranteed pay off. This is especially dumb when it is pursued at the expense of character, integrity, sacrifice, and truth.

Here's the link to Miller's entire blogpost.


Friday, January 14, 2011

Trusting Three Neighborhood Kids

This afternoon as I was leaving the office to head home for dinner with my family, three neighborhood kids stopped me on my way out the door. The two boys had old snow shovels, the little girl looked very cold. They wanted to know if I would pay them to shovel off the porch and steps. 

According to their story, they were trying to earn money so they could afford to go roller-skating with their school. Their parents agreed to take them, but the kids had to come up with their own cash for the event. I was impressed that the three of them, a brother and sister team and a friend, were out working hard to pay their own way. 

I gave them three bucks in advance of them cleaning off the porch and steps. I asked them how I would know if they would actually do the work, since I had to get going. They promised they would do the work. I gave the money to the second grade girl and told her not to give the money to the older boys until they had finished their job to her approval. 

It seemed like a good idea to introduce myself to the neighborhood kids, and they told me their names. I told them that I was the pastor here, and that they were welcome to come and visit anytime. I invited them to church on Sunday, but the one boy said he lived with his dad on the weekends in Columbia City. His dad makes motorcycles.  The brother and sister remarked in disappointment that they had to hang out with their dad and his girlfriend on Sundays. They remembered the Halloween Maze though, and were pretty impressed with the church, but it didn't seem likely they'd be able to come on a Sunday morning. 

Later that evening I returned to the church for some meetings. As I was turning out the lights, I checked the porch and steps. Sure enough, those three neighborhood kids kept their word. I was very pleased. It was three bucks well spent. I'd like to hope it was some seeds sown for good. And I hope they have a lot of fun at their school roller-skating party. 

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Lots of Parents are That Clueless

Sex is a really big deal. And yet it rarely gets talked about in a healthy, nurturing way. Especially between parents and children. Why is that? Why is it so hard for a mom to talk to her son about sex? Why is it so awkward for a dad to discuss with his daughter about her sexuality? The topic is too important for parents to stay clueless about the sexual interests and attitudes of their children.

Here's a story from Rob Bell's book Sex God that highlights this crisis:
A man I've known for years was recently telling me about some of his challenges running a youth camp over the past year. The biggest one involved a fifteen-year-old girl. It had recently come out that she had been having sex with a man in the area. Which, among other things, go the man in trouble with the law. But when my friend and the girl's dad got involved, it turned out that she'd been having sex with, well, lots of men in the area. My friend said that as the truth began to come out, her dad was shocked. He had no idea that she was this involved with anybody, let alone with this many men.

How can a father be that clueless?

But as many of us read that last sentence, we were thinking, Lots of parents are that clueless.

Parents who don't talk with their kids about sex, ever?

Did your parents ever talk with you about sex?
How'd that talk go? Was it helpful? Awkward? Scary?
If you could make some suggestions to your parents, how would you advise them if they could do the talk over again?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

My Perspective of Anchor

What drives my perspective of Anchor?

In preaching through the Acts of the Apostles in 2010, I was deeply impressed with chapter four. I've spent a lot of time in chapter two, so I was unprepared for the impact of how the story continues in chapter four.

A few things that I noticed:
* Jesus' life and words and work resulted in political, economic, cultural and religious leaders to conspire against him.
* the prayer of the apostles in response to the threats included a request for the ability to speak God's word with great boldness.
* the prayer also included the request for God to stretch out his hand against those who conspired (and those who didn't) to heal and perform signs and wonders in the name of Jesus.
* this kind of praying and attitude and activity resulted in a church filled with the Holy Spirit.
* it also resulted in a church one in heart and mind, demonstrated through generosity and grace.
* there seemed to be a connection between the bold preaching of Jesus' resurrection and the great work of making sure there were no more needy people in the community.

Acts 4:27 "Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28 They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. 29 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30 Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.

32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

Reflecting on these ideas for many months now has shaped my perspective of how I see Anchor, and what I am working on for the future:
* I am helping build a church that helps anyone in the congregation with any kind of need. I want us to figure out how to help families in need to get the help they need, so that they are no longer needy. This means aligning our leaders and resources and ideas around activities that perpetually put us in relationship with families in need, as well as wisdom on how to help people become no longer needy.

* I am helping build a church that boldly proclaims the resurrection of Jesus - which means that the preacher and the congregation understands the resurrection of Jesus. We can't proclaim what we don't grasp. If we don't know what it means for us, how can we help others get it?

* I am helping build a church that expects God to stretch out his hand to heal and perform signs and wonders in the name of Jesus, particularly those who aren't for Jesus yet. The church's ability to bring healing in the name of Jesus to the brokenness of our community is crucial, especially a community that is suspicious and cynical towards the church.

* I am building a church that continually relies on the Holy Spirit for wisdom and courage; wisdom to discern the next right thing to do in any situation anywhere, and the courage to act. This is in regard to the every day occurrences of our life at home and work and school. It's also for those activities that highlight why Jesus came: to bring good news to the poor, to free the oppressed, bring light to the blind.

* I am building a church where members seek to better understand the political, economic, cultural, and religious forces at work in our community and react in the name of Jesus. Jesus was conspired against because he spoke truth to power, because he insisted on the power of love against the power of security. Jesus was fruitful because he wasn't afraid to see life as it really was, he was able to help people see life as it really is, and act accordingly.

This is what I am helping build. The vision of Acts 4 has clarified my focus of what Anchor can look like.  A church that is a helpful group of Jesus-followers. Helpful to the needy, helpful to those in need of healing, helpful to those looking to be generous, helpful to those in need of grace, helpful to those in need of truth, helpful to those in need of resurrection, helpful to those who want to love.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Talking to your Kids and Teens about "It"

What's your story about how your folks talked to you about "it?" Sex.

Here's a piece from Rob Bell's book Sex God in relation to this crucial conversation:

Somehow we got on the subject of how we were first told about sex. One friend heard about it from his dad, who used ticket stubs to show how... well, actually he doesn't remember how the ticket stubs fit into his dad's explanation.

He was so traumatized by the subject that he stopped listening partway through. Other than his experience, which made us laugh, and a few others, it was striking how many in the group did not hear about sex from their parents. In fact, as the conversation continued, it turned out that a good number of the group were raised in homes where sex was not talked about at all.

How can parents ignore something this big?

That's an agonizing question. Was that part of your story?

How is the talk going to go for your kids and teens?
Are you scared about it? Does it make you nervous?


Sunday, January 02, 2011

Like This Post, You Will!

Are you a fan of Star Wars?

Have you seen the commercials for TomTom GPS that advertises its voice for Yoda and Darth Vader? Me and the kids think they are hilarious! We just watched them again, and now we want to share them with you. My brother Jerm introduced them to us at Thanksgiving. It was a gift for which I am still thankful. :)


Here's the one for Yoda:

Here's the one for Darth Vader: