In ??? We Trust

Life Notes—August 26, 2010

Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”  So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.  What can anyone do to me?”  Hebrews 13:5-6 

Faith questions are convicting.  It is easy (on Sunday) to say, sing or pray “I trust in the Lord, my God!” It is difficult to live out that trust when the going gets tough, like on Monday morning.  To have the kind of faith Paul writes about in his letter to the Hebrews, we should not fear anything…ever!   If we truly believe God will never leave or forsake us, what could we possibly fear? And yet, if you are like me, we fear plenty. We fear, especially, for money.  We need money to eat and pay for life’s necessities.  We need money for our kids’ education, healthcare, vacations and retirement.  Is Paul telling us we should trust God to provide money for our needs?  What if God’s definition of a need, and God’s definition of meeting that need differs significantly from our definition? 

I think this is the heart of the issue.  Few people in the United States today need to seriously worry about starving to death.  A cup or two of rice per person per day would probably sustain most of us.  Well…..technically, yes; but who among us would willingly give up the quantity, quality and variety of food choices we enjoy for a couple bowls of rice?  If that is the type of provision we may expect to receive from God, are we really willing to trust God for our daily bread?  Obviously, millions of people in the world would be thrilled to be guaranteed a cup or two of rice per day.  Probably not most of us.  So we work for, and worry about, having enough money to feed our expectations. 

In the passage above Paul writes, “Keep your lives free from the love of money…”  I believe the challenge for us lies in context of the place and times of our lives.  Our faith question is not likely between a cup of rice and a cup of nothing.  Rather, we are challenged to strike a balance between the resources we have, the personal “needs” we choose to indulge, and the needs of others.  This challenge is magnified in difficult economic times when many are forced to downsize houses, cars and eating out.  Yet, the Bible calls us to a simpler, less resource-intensive way of life.  How much simpler and how much less resource-intensive is our personal challenge.  The less we utilize, the more is available for use by others.  This is our challenge: Do we love money, or what it can do for us, more than we love and care for our neighbors?  Can we trust more in, and be content with God’s provision for us, when that means more for others with greater needs? 

Tom’s sermon downtown will be “Hospitality to Strangers,” based on Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16.   Mitch will be preaching at the west campus.  Life worship begins at 9:40 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

Letter vs. Spirit

Life Notes—August 19, 2010

When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.  But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the Sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done, come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day.”  Luke 13:13-14 

Recently, my wife asked a member of our family (who will not be named) to put the clothes that were in the washing machine into the dryer.  And the clothes that were in the washing machine were put into the dryer.  Sometime later, she checked the dryer and noticed it full of still-wet clothes.  The other family member had followed the letter of what she asked (“Put the clothes in the dryer”) but not her intention, which included the unspoken assumption of actually turning the dryer on so the clothes would dry. 

In the passage above, Jesus is criticized by a church leader for healing on the Sabbath, in violation of the ‘letter’ of the law.  The law of the Old Testament said they were not to work on the Sabbath; rather, it was to be a day of rest.  A few passages later Jesus calls them ‘hypocrites,’ noting everyone does a number of ‘work’ things on the Sabbath, such as untying their animals and leading them to water.  Common sense dictates it. 

Some of the most divisive issues among and within Christian denominations today have to do with which scriptures we accept literally and which are to be wrestled with, dissected and otherwise pondered in their application.  One issue has to do with working on the Sabbath.  When I was a kid there were no stores open on Sunday, and nearly everyone was off work that day.  Now, Sundays are difficult to distinguish from the other days of the week, in terms of shopping or other activities.  Other controversial issues include women in leadership roles in the church, homosexuality, sex outside of marriage, gay marriage and others.  Scripture has a lot to say on topics still relevant today.  Times have changed, but the divisive issues remain.  

Jesus modeled following the spirit of the law, even when it violated the letter of the law.  And we are challenged in similar ways.  The point for today’s Christian may not be whether we follow scripture literally, but how we wrestle with the teachings and apply them to our daily lives, and that we do wrestle with them.  There are plenty of good church choices all along the literal-interpretive spectrum.  There may not be one right or wrong answer; but God reaches out to and love us all, wherever we fall on the spectrum. 

Tom’s sermon downtown will be “Receiving Grace,” based on Luke 13:10-17.   Mitch will be preaching at the west campus.  Life worship begins at 9:40 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.  And for crying out loud, turn on the dryer… 

Come home to worship this Sunday.  Strugglers welcome–literally!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Peace and Chaos

Life Notes—August 12, 2010

“Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division!”  Luke 12:51 

One of my greatest pleasures is a peaceful evening at home.  Sitting on the deck with a cool breeze passing by.  Watching a brilliant sunset.  Listening to the serenade of cicadas and bullfrogs.  My children home, enjoying family fellowship.  My wife nearby, quietly attending to one of her interests.  The lawn, mowed.  The house, clean.  All is right with the world.  Ahhhh!  A moment straight from heaven… 

Or is it?  Is everything ever right with the world?  Every second people die needlessly and senselessly—many starve, some are victims of various types of violence, some are ravaged by illness.  At any given moment in our lives we are probably less than a few hundred yards from tremendous suffering—loneliness, sickness, mental illness, broken hearts, broken homes, addictions, homelessness, hunger. Does Jesus intend to bring us peace, as in my peaceful evening at home, or endless guilt over the unfortunate plight of those around us?  In the passage above he clearly intends to rouse us into action.  Jesus is a divisive force.  He does not apologize for making us squirm uncomfortably in our seats.  I believe we are called to accept responsibility for the condition of those around us, whether in our family, in our church, in our community or in our world. 

And that is why mission work is so critical to a church following the lead of Jesus.  Each year a significant portion of our financial offerings supports mission work around the world through the United Methodist Council on Relief (UMCOR).  And there are usually several mission groups from our church going out to help those in need.  Our youth spent a week in South Dakota working on the Lakota reservation.  They also spent a week helping out in areas of need right here in Lawrence.  There was also a group that worked for a week in Honduras.  Although most of us were not a direct part of these mission efforts, we were present with them through our financial and prayer support. 

So what of my peaceful evening?  Jesus also tells us, elsewhere, “My peace I give to you” and “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  I think we are called to find a balance between work and renewal.  It is the wearying work that makes the sunset on the porch that much more beautiful and rejuvenating. 

Our Honduras mission team will be leading worship at our contemporary services, 9:30 and 10:45, sharing their mission experiences.   Mitch’s sermon at the traditional services downtown is entitled “(Almost) Nothing Lasts Forever,” based on Matthew 24:3-14.  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

Faithful or Faithless?

Life Notes—August 5, 2010

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval.  By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.”  Hebrews 11:1-2 

Is there a more nebulous tenant of religion than faith?  It is a cornerstone of our Christian beliefs that can put us between a rock and a hard place—damned if we do, damned if we don’t.  Does having faith imply action or inaction?  Does a faithful parent trust God to protect their young child from the hot stove?  Where is the line drawn between having faith and taking charge? Clearly, there is a line, but its location is not always clear. 

I had a physician tell me recently that, at some point, we have to “let the Good Lord run His course.”  It felt like a platitude.  He was referring to the medical choices when someone is very ill and likely near death.  We can classify a person as “Do Not Resuscitate (DNR),” meaning some actions will not be taken to extend life, but it still leaves grey areas, such as feeding tubes and pain management.  Is making a DNR or feeding tube decision about a loved one an act of faith, an act of mercy, or something worse?  What is most faithful?  Our decisions have consequences, but we cannot see them from where we stand. Faith questions are difficult, often without easy answers. 

Most Christians have faith that there is a God, that Jesus lived and died to save us, and that there is a Holy Spirit present with us today.  We cannot see any of these spiritual realities, except by faith. Jesus told his followers if they had faith the size of a mustard seed they could move mountains.  Have you seen a mustard seed?  They’re tiny!  Does that mean the non-mountain-movers among us have a microscopic faith?  Paul writes in his letter to the Hebrews, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for…”  We hope for better days in our darkest times because our faith assures us they will come.  

Some of you know the L.I.F.E. in Life worship is an acronym for “Living In Faith Everyday.”  It is a worthy goal.  Personally, I think the line of faith may be drawn something like this: we are moved to action in a certain situation, we take the best action we can with the knowledge and gifts we have, and we leave the ultimate result to God.  We act in faith, then we trust in faith.  We reassess our vision and beliefs; then we are called to act and trust again. And again.  And again. 

Tom’s sermon title (8:30 and 11:00) is “A Faith Adventure in Giving,” based on Luke 12:32-40.  Mitch’s sermon (9:30 and 10:45) is “A Better Country,” based on Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16. 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.  Faithful and faithless strugglers welcome!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator