Rejoice Always

Life Notes—October 29, 2009

 “See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:15-18

There are many passages in the Bible I wish were not there. Living a life of faith and following the teachings of our Lord would be so much easier without some of the zingers that are interspersed throughout scripture. The deletion of the three verses above just might be a good place to start. Try as I might to interpret them in a less-blunt manner, they still end up directing me to act in ways that do not come naturally for me.

If I am not to repay evil for evil I probably shouldn’t lay on my horn when someone cuts me off in traffic. It apparently is not enough to simply seek to do good to another, but I must always seek to do good to another. And not just to one other, but to all! I supposed that includes the co-worker whose personal life I know better than my own since he/she won’t stop complaining about it. Rejoice always—are you kidding me? With all that happens in my life? Pray without ceasing? Give thanks in all circumstances? This is the will of God for me??? It makes God seem like some sadistic monster!

The man who wrote these passages was Paul, and Paul was never one to mince words. They are a part of one of his letters to the church at Thessalonica to teach and encourage the congregation in their young faith, even from a distance. Paul spent much of the evangelizing part of his life in prison. I am told he had numerous infirmities and was often sick. I have read the prisons he was in were probably not what we know as prison cells, as much as dark holes in the ground under the dungeons we think of as prisons of the time. Rejoice always? Pray without ceasing? Give thanks in all circumstances? Wow. If Paul could do that with his lot in life, I should be able to work at it, too.

This Sunday is All Saints Day and we will celebrate the lives of the saints of our church who passed over this past year. It is also Commitment Sunday where we will receive the financial pledges from our church family for 2010. Finally, we will celebrate communion at all four services. It is not a Sunday to be missed. Life Worship begins at 10:45 in Brady Hall. Traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary. Contemporary worship begins at 9:30 at the west campus.

Come home to worship this Sunday! Rejoice and give thanks with us! Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Great Encounters

Life Notes—October 22, 2009 

“He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature.  So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him; because he was going to pass that way.”  Luke 19:3-4                                   

When I was in college I worked at a nursery in Topeka that was located near the Governor’s mansion.  President Gerald Ford was visiting Topeka one day and was scheduled to see the Governor.  We anticipated the motorcade would travel along Interstate 70, some 500 yards distant from the fence many of us stood along, hoping for a glimpse.  We heard the sirens long before we saw the vehicles, but the motorcade we saw was not traveling on the Interstate, but along the street barely10 yards from our fence!  It was an impressive sight and, although I was never really certain which vehicle (if any) actually held the President, I was pleased to have been so close.

What does my story have to do with Zacchaeus?  Maybe very little, but I remember the excitement of having the opportunity to catch a glimpse of someone well-known not everyone gets to see up close.  I remember strategically wondering which spot along that fence would provide the best view.  Zacchaeus, being ‘vertically challenged,’ climbed a sycamore tree for his view.  And not only did he see Jesus, Jesus saw him.  Jesus called to him, told him he would be dining in his home that day and the encounter transformed a petty, selfish thief into a faithful servant. 

How do we react when we encounter greatness?  Don’t get me wrong.  I do not equate Gerald Ford, the man, with greatness, nor the President with the Lord.  But an encounter with the President of the United States?  That is an awe-inspiring encounter, regardless of the person filling the office.  How would I have responded if the President had stopped his motorcade, rolled down his window and said, “Greg! I am coming to your apartment for dinner tonight!”  I would’ve felt unworthy.  My apartment was small and dirty, the furnishings sparse, my cooking skills unworthy of entertaining a President.  But I would’ve done my best to clean up my act and make myself worthy of the company.  Exactly as Zacchaeus did.  We cannot know why God chooses us to love and accept, but we can respond with gratitude for being chosen—exactly as Zacchaeus did. 

Tom will continue his sermon series on the book Enough, by Rev. Adam Hamilton.  This week’s sermon title is, “Defined by Generosity.”  The scripture reading is Luke 19:1-10.  Life Worship begins at 10:45 in Brady Hall.  Traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Contemporary worship begins at 9:30 at the west campus. 

Come home to worship this Sunday!  You won’t even need to climb a tree for a view…

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator


Life Notes—October 15, 2009 

“…Take care!  Be on your guard against all kinds of greed, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”  Luke 12:15                                   

Sometimes I get totally obsessed with wanting something.  Not needing it, mind you, just wanting it.  Often it is not some inexpensive item either, but a major purchase by our standards.  I research it diligently to learn more about which variation of the ‘thing’ will best meet my desire.  Then I’ll research its cost, availability, places where I can buy it and other information that may be important as I move towards a possible purchase.  Often, if the ‘thing’ is relatively abundant, I will watch how its availability and price change over a period of a time.  Most often the last things I do (which should be the first things) are to pray about the purchase and discuss it with my wife.  Of course, by the time these two critical conversations have occurred, I have long decided this purchase is not only necessary, but the time is now to buy it.  And very little that God or Carrie could say is going to change my mind at that point… 

Am I alone?  I often wonder if this type of purchasing strategy is more of a ‘guy’ thing.  It’s not unlike hunting or fishing, formerly life-critical activities rooted deep in our common ancestry.  Significant time is spent preparing for the actual capture of some unsuspecting animal.  The difference, of course, is I’m talking about a possession—a guitar or a car—not dinner. 

What I sometimes find is I enjoy the search, the ‘hunt’ for the items as much or more than the item itself.  Sometimes I have hunted for months for a desired thing—once it was an accordion—only to have it sit and collect dust following its capture.  Unlike hunting for dinner, the actual hunt for another possession may be more life-giving than the possession itself.  If it doesn’t enhance one’s life, it is not a wise purchase.  I am reminded of the many sayings with the moral: the joy is in the journey… I need to be careful about distinguishing between life-enhancing possessions and life-draining possessions.  I need to find joyful journeys that do not terminate in an unwise purchase.  How about you? 

Tom will continue his sermon series on the book Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity, by Rev. Adam Hamilton.  This week’s sermon title is, “Cultivating Commitment.”  The scripture reading is Luke 12:13-21.  Life Worship begins at 10:45 in Brady Hall.  Traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Contemporary worship begins at 9:30 at the west campus. 

Come home to worship this Sunday!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

First Fruits

Life Notes—October 8, 2009 

“Honor the Lord with your substance and with the first fruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.”  Proverbs 3: 9-10                                   

Did you hear the one about the preacher who was asked how he decided the amount to give to the Lord’s work?  The preacher had two guidelines.  First, his offerings were always from the first fruits of his labors.  Second, he offered the Lord as much as the Lord wanted.  His process was to convert each paycheck to cash and immediately throw it all into the air.  Whatever the Lord caught belonged to the Lord, whatever the Lord let fall to the ground was his… 

Giving of our first fruits is not an ambiguous directive.  It is difficult to word-smith it into something that doesn’t actually mean first.  Oh sure, I have tried.  But I struggle with the thought of giving away the first portion of whatever I earn.  I am much more comfortable making sure the bills are paid and the cars are full of gas and the refrigerator is stocked before fulfilling my pledge to support my church.  I can easily justify this because (1) if I don’t fulfill my pledge to the church someone else will pick up the slack, and (2) if I pay the church first and need the money later in the month it’s very awkward to ask for my money back.  Am I alone in my reasoning?  

Of course we know the church depends on our offerings every bit as much as we depend on our paychecks.  If my employer were to withhold part of my check for fear the company might need it later I would scream, “But I need that money.  I depend on it!”  Why would I expect it to be any different with my church?  Too often we treat our pledge to the church, or our commitments to other charitable organizations, as optional—something easily skipped when the money is gone.  After all, our intentions were good… 

But God wants our first fruits.  We receive, then we give…then we trust.  We cannot be blessed by our own stinginess, only by God’s generous provision.  When our month outlasts our money we should find other ways to make ends meet. Tom’s sermon title is, “Wisdom and Finance,” based on the book Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity.  The scripture reading is Proverbs 3:1-10.  Life Worship begins at 10:45.  Traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Contemporary worship begins at 9:30 at the west campus. 

Come home to worship this Sunday!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator


Life Notes—October 1, 2009 

“But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil…” 1 Timothy 6:9-10a                                   

Well, I am glad I’m not rich enough to fall into the temptations and traps described by Paul in his first letter to Timothy!  Those people, at least those who get caught, end up in jail.  They are publicly disgraced, their greedy sins plastered all over the news—they get exactly what they deserve.  Wow, what a relief to not be that rich! 

Actually, though, Paul doesn’t make a distinction between levels of richness. He is referring to a state of mind more than a state of checkbook.  It is those who want to be rich who fall into temptation, not just those who are already rich.  And it is the love of money, not the possession of money that is the root of all kinds of evil.  So, let me get this straight: I can actually be poor, or something less than ‘rich,’ and still be plunged into ruin and destruction if my desire for more is not controlled?  I think that’s exactly the truth the passage reveals.  It is our desires that doom us; it is our level of contentment with what we possess that is the issue, not simply what we possess.  How we manage our desires matters.  I could be sharing a cell with Bernie Madoff… 

The verse before those above says, “…there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment…”  There’s the ‘c’ word—contentment, being satisfied with what we have already received.  The passage continues, “…for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.”  Somehow I doubt many of us today will find contentment with just food and clothing, but can we find contentment with something less than we already have?  Can we find joy in sharing more and hoarding less?  Can we help ease someone’s suffering by sharing a portion of our excess?  We certainly can’t take it with us… 

This will be a special Sunday at Life Worship.  It marks the first anniversary of our transition from the mid-morning service in the sanctuary to the Life Service in Brady Hall.  It has placed us in an intimate space to worship our God and I am thankful.  My daughter, Grace, will be playing cello on ‘Over the Rainbow’ for communion–a beautiful backdrop for the receiving of communion.  Please join us at First Church this Sunday.  Tom’s sermon title is, “When Dreams Become Nightmares.”  The scripture reading is 1 Timothy 6:3-10.  Life Worship begins at 10:45.  Traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Contemporary worship begins at 9:30 at the west campus. 

Come home to worship this Sunday!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator