Things of Value

Life Notes—July 29, 2010

“And he said to them, ‘Take care!  Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’”  Luke 11:9-10 

Things of Value

Jesus is speaking with a man in a crowd who is concerned about the division of his family inheritance.  He tells a parable about a rich man who has such an abundance of crops and goods he has to build bigger barns to hold it all.  After filling his new barns God says to him, “You fool!  This very night your life is being demanded of you.  And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”  The parable is summed up nicely in the current vernacular: “You can’t take it with you when you go.” 

Sometimes we assume there is nothing from earth we take with us, but is that really true?  Perhaps looking at what we know we cannot take with us will help us understand what might travel with us.  When we understand what we may take with us, we can better understand the true and eternal treasures we should work to accumulate on earth.  

It is probably safe to assume we cannot take our homes, cars, guitars, bodies, knick-knacks, money, stocks and bonds, friends, family, television sets, computers, cell phones, food, gardens and jobs.  There are a number of things we hope do not travel with us, including worries, illness, pimples and bills.  Even though the things in these lists consume major parts of our lives and attention, it’s probably a safe bet such “consumables” are meant only as tools for accumulating eternal wealth. 

What does that leave?  I suggest maybe that which imprints on our consciousness and the consciousness of others remains and is carried across that mysterious life-death boundary.  Love, memories, impacts on the lives of others, service, that which the relationships we nurture leaves.  If we look to the life of Jesus, he had very little in the way of physical possessions.  Everything he had was given in service to others until even his body, broken and completely spent, was sacrificed on the cross for us.  His impact lives on, even today.  How much of our lives do we spend building eternal vs. temporary wealth? 

Unlike the rich man in the parable, may we learn to use and share what we are given, rather than hording that with no eternal value.  If we cannot take it with us, it really does not belong to us, does it?  Lord, help us allow our possessions to flow through us, rather than sticking to us. 

Tom’s sermon title (downtown) is “Prosperity Theology;” Mitch’s sermon (west campus) is “Money Sermon,” and both are based on 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 at the west campus is at 9:30.  Communion will be served at all services. 

Come home to worship this Sunday.  Strugglers welcome!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Wishful Praying

Life Notes—July 22, 2010

“So I say unto you, ‘Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.  For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.’”  Luke 11:9-10 

A few weeks ago I wrote about a scripture that is among those so difficult, convicting and inconvenient that I wish Jesus had never said it.  The passage above is one that I believe is among the most misleading, or at least is commonly misunderstood.  It has spawned an offshoot within Christianity called Prosperity Theology, which teaches, “If you can dream it, you can have it!”  Wealth?  Power?  Fame?  Six-pack abs?  Ask, and you shall receive!  Of course, you need to buy the book or otherwise contribute to the cause in order to ask properly.  I have difficulty believing that was what Jesus was advocating. 

The context of this teaching is found in the verses preceding it, where Jesus’ disciples ask to be taught how to pray.  What Jesus shares is the framework for what we, today, call The Lord’s Prayer.  Jesus suggests asking (1) that God’s will be done, (2) provision for their daily needs, (3) forgiveness for sins, and (4) protection from temptation.  Those seem to be relatively modest, but important requests.  Perhaps Jesus meant that, within the context of common needs, whatever we ask will be provided. 

However, I also believe God, like a loving parent, provides much more than we need or ask for.  At least that has been the case in my life.  But often, prayers are not answered for years.  Sometimes they are answered in different ways than asked.  Sometimes they seem never have to been answered at all.  In those cases I think it is helpful to remember our years on earth are only a small part of our eternal life.  Who knows what answers await on the other side of the grave? 

Am I saying God does not answer prayer?  No.  There have been too many specific prayers answered in my own life for such pessimism.  What I am saying is I do not understand what the “formula” is that determines why some prayers are answered, while other equally worthy prayers seem not to be answered.  I don’t believe the formula is contained in the method of our asking, but in God’s grace and wisdom.  I have asked, with all sincerity and passion, for some pretty idiotic things in my life that I thank God I never received.  However, I may continue to pray for those six-pack abs—just in case… 

Tom’s sermon title (west campus) is “Persistent in Prayer;” Mitch’s sermon (downtown) is “Knock Knock Joke,” and both are based on Luke 11:1-13.  Life worship begins at 10:45 in Brady hall.  Traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Contemporary worship at the west campus is at 9:30. 

Come home to worship this Sunday.  Strugglers welcome!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

The Most Needful Thing

Life Notes—July 15, 2010 

“But Martha was distracted by her many tasks, so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?  Tell her then to help me.’  But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.  Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’”  Luke 10:40-42 

I’m sure you know Mary and Martha.  Certainly not the sisters that Jesus visited in the passage above, but the essence of Mary and Martha is manifested in every generation.  Mary likes to visit and be in relationship.  You’ll find Mary with others: talking, listening, laughing and relating.  Martha is a busy-body and cannot sit still when there is work to be done.  And when isn’t there work to be done?  There is cooking, cleaning, children to care for, lawns to mow, email to answer and on and on and on.  The Martha’s of the world may consider the Mary’s of the world lazy and irresponsible.  The Mary’s of the world may consider the Martha’s as high-strung and a little holier-than-thou.  No doubt, the battle has raged through every generation. 

In the scripture story Jesus comes to the home of Mary and Martha and while Martha is busy in the kitchen, Mary sits at Jesus’ feet and listens.  While Martha is working for Jesus, Mary is being with Jesus.  Martha is furious and asks Jesus to rebuke Mary for not helping her prepare for their guests.  Instead, Jesus gently rebukes Martha for having her priorities turned around.  We have many chances to eat, and few people will starve by missing one meal.  But they had only one chance to sit at the feet of Jesus, in their own home, and just be with him.  I’ve found that many tasks needing to be done are still there, still needing to be done, tomorrow. 

I have a little bit of both Mary and Martha in me.  I’m probably a little heavier on the Mary side than Martha.  But in all honesty, both Mary-and-Martha-traits are important.  There are times to focus on the work needing to be done, and there are times to rest, relax, listen and learn.  Our challenge is in deciding which is the most needful thing for any given moment.  When we spend time with Jesus, does he find us ‘in the kitchen’ or sitting attentively at his feet?  The choice is ours. 

Tom’s sermon title (downtown) is “Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There!,” from Luke 10:38-42.  Mitch’s title (west) is “Abraham Was A Radical,” from Genesis 18:1-10a.  The children from Vacation Bible School will sing at the 9:30 and 10:45 services.  Life worship begins at 10:45 in Brady hall.  Traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Contemporary worship at the west campus is at 9:30. 

Come home to worship this Sunday.  Strugglers welcome!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

The Contemplative Samaritan

Life Notes—July 8, 2010 

“’Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’  He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’  Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’”  Luke 16:36-37 

It happened at the large gathering of family and friends in the front yard of the home of my mother and father-in-law.  There was a 20-foot table full of food, at least half of which was a delectable assortment of homemade desserts.  Fifty-some people were eating and visiting and eating and visiting when my wife’s frail, wheelchair-bound uncle laid his head on the table and closed his eyes.  My mind went into immediate action—what should I do?  What if we need an ambulance?  What if we need to land a helicopter in this maze of people and vehicles?  What if he’s just really sad and crying—what should I do?  Do I have time for this? (I did).  I sensed something needed to be done quickly, but my first reaction was to play a bunch of possible scenarios out in my head.  Sadly, I might have talked myself out of doing anything at all. 

The scripture above is the closing passage of the parable of the Good Samaritan.  This is the story of a man traveling on the Jericho Road when he was robbed and beaten and left by the side of the road.  A number of people passed by without stopping to help, until a man from Samaria took action.  He stopped and bandaged the injured man’s wounds, took him to the next town and paid for his care.  The parable is meant to shed light on what it means to love your neighbor, as well as whom our neighbors actually are. 

While I was busy contemplating, my wife walked right over and tapped him on the shoulder, asking, “Uncle Bob, are you okay?”  He opened his eyes, raised his head and smiled, “Oh yes, I just needed a rest after eating all this good food!” 

Certainly both action and contemplation are noble and necessary human characteristics, and we all display both to greater or lesser extents.  Carrie and I are at different ends of the action-contemplation spectrum, and I admire her ability to see a need and jump into action, trusting what will be needed for the situation will materialize.  However, in an hour of need, pray to be found by an action-oriented, Good Samaritan like my wife, rather than a contemplative, Good Samaritan like myself.  A person could drown in the sea of my good intentions while I formulate the best course of action… 

There will be communion at all four services this Sunday.  Tom’s sermon title (downtown) is “For Mercy’s Sake.”  Mitch’s title (west) is “Love Means Getting Your Hands Dirty.”  Both are based on the scripture from Luke 10:25-37.  Life worship begins at 10:45 in Brady hall.  Traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Contemporary worship at the west campus is at 9:30. 

Come home to worship this Sunday.  Strugglers welcome!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Sowing and Reaping

Life Notes—July 1, 2010 

“Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow.  If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit…So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.”  Galatians 6: 8,10 

All spiritual leaders whose teachings have endured the test of time, at least those with whom I am familiar, draw strong distinctions between our physical and spiritual realities.  These are confusing distinctions because it is our physical reality that is most “real” to us, at least on earth.  We can see, touch, taste, smell and hear our physical world, but we can only consistently be assured of our spiritual world by faith.  Our physical world tells us to live for the day and to seize the moment and to go for the gusto!  Our spiritual teachers warn us not to give in to the temptations of the flesh. 

It can be confusing, difficult and frustrating.  What if the spiritual teachers are wrong and there is no world beyond this one?  What if I give up all these tempting indulgences of the flesh for nothing, with no chance of experiencing them again?  In his letter to the Galatians, Paul illustrates this theme with the familiar example of sowing and reaping.  Everyone understands a farmer who fails to complete the work of sowing his seed during planting time will have no crop come harvest time.  The fact that the farmer cannot see, touch or smell the harvest when sowing the seed does not change the reality that we cannot reap what we do not sow.  This is obviously true of our lives on earth, although few grasp how pervasive this reality actually is.  According to Paul and others, it is also true of our life beyond earth.  And not everything we sow on earth will be harvested on earth—some will be harvested beyond earth. 

Paul advises us to “work for the good of all.”  It is a fairly easy guide to remember, if not always so easy to follow.  I should ask myself, “How will what I am about to do affect the greater life around me?”  Before I actually do, say or eat something it might help to remember the lesson of sowing and reaping.  In spite of appearances to the contrary, we do not live our lives apart from the greater life around us.  What we do and say matters.  And sometimes the consequences of our actions will outlive our earthly existence. 

This Sunday Tom will be introducing our new associate pastor, Mitch Todd, at all four services.  Mitch will also be at the picnic at the west campus on Saturday, July 3 at 5:30.  I know you will want to get to know, or reacquaint yourself with him.  It is exciting to have Mitch back on the First Church staff.  Life worship begins at 10:45 in Brady hall.  Traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Contemporary worship at the west campus is at 9:30. 

Come home to worship this Sunday.  Strugglers welcome!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator