Beautiful Truths

Life Notes—October 28, 2010

“Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. …Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.’” John 8:31,32,34 

Years ago I remember hearing the phrase, “If you’re going to be a liar, you’d better have a good memory.”  As I got older (particularly as I began dating) it became painfully clear that perversions of the truth, or little ‘white lies’ came back to haunt me by people with better memories than my own.  Today, as my memory comes and goes, it is doubly important to be as truthful as possible.  There is simply no other way to be consistent in what is said and the stories told.  Untruths can be uncomfortably binding. 

Jesus’ statement above, about the truth making you free, is not a commentary on lying.  Rather, he was referring to freedom from the false chains that bind us when we believe untruths about ourselves and our world.  For example, we may believe that because we have done bad things in our lives, we are bad people.  Or, because we have committed unloving acts, we are unworthy of the love of others.  While we may understand, intellectually, these are not true, they still bind many of us deep down, in areas not always obvious to our conscious minds.  Sometimes, we simply feel unworthy of the good and beautiful people and things around us, and we do not understand why.  Perhaps it is the lingering voice of an overly strict or fearful parent.  Perhaps it was a time something beautiful was taken from us; and now we believe this, too, will be taken from us.  We allow the sins of the past to continue to bind us today; not because they can, but because at some level we wrongly believe they do or should.  We become slaves to sin. 

The truth of which Jesus speaks is a truth that cannot be proved or disproved on earth.  It is the truth that we are loved and cherished as special and unique children of the One God, and we are worthy of every bountiful blessing that comes with such royal status.  Jesus lived and died to free us from our sin, not to have us continue to be bound by it.  When we know and trust our status with God, through Jesus, we truly become free to dance with and rejoice in the beauty surrounding us, safe in the knowledge we are treasured and valued with a love that will not let us go, no matter what we’ve done.  No matter what we’ve said.  No matter what… 

Tom’s sermon at the downtown services this week is, “Reformed by Truth,” based on John 8:31-36.  Life worship begins at 9:40 in Brady Hall.  Traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Mitch is preaching at the west campus, where contemporary worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.  His sermon is the third in his Noah series titled, “Hope Floats: Rainbow,” based on Genesis 9:8-17. 

Come home to worship this Sunday.  Strugglers welcome; and that’s the beautiful truth!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Keeping the Faith

Life Notes—October 21, 2010

“As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness…” 2 Timothy 4:6-8a 

In his second letter to Timothy, Paul is likely near death, saying he is ‘being poured out as a libation’ (offering or sacrifice).  He claims to have ‘fought the good fight’ and ‘finished the race’ and ‘kept the faith.’  I do not know a lot about Paul’s life, but I know he was sick and in prison for at least a portion of his latter years.  He endured whatever suffering and hardship he encountered and kept his faith, in spite of the difficulty. 

Lately, I’ve done a lot of reflecting on the life of my mother and this scripture makes me think of her.  Her father, whom she adored, died when she was a teenager.  She lived through the Great Depression.  She dealt with significant and recurring episodes of mental illness on the part of her husband and a child. My father died young and unexpectedly, leaving her to raise four children between the ages of five and fourteen.  She turned 82 last April and few people live to that age without facing significant hardships and losses.  Yet, she endured and kept her faith to the end. 

Many of you know she suffered a stroke in late July, from which she would not recover, passing from this life earlier this month.  She was not able to communicate effectively after the stroke, but on one of her last days I was praying a long, rambling prayer with her.  I was thanking God for her life growing up in a small, Kansas town, and for her sisters and brother and mother and father and her children and grandchildren and named many of the blessings and difficulties she had endured.  And she broke in to say, “Yes, thank you, God!  Thank you, God!  Thank you, God!”  Had I been in the condition her stroke left her, I might have been talking to God, but probably not in a thankful way. 

My mother fought the good fight, she finished the race and kept the faith.  I have no doubt there was a crown of righteousness awaiting her on the other side.  Do we face our hardships with the boldness and endurance of Paul…..or of mom?  We have many examples of faithful endurance in our First Church family.  It is probably in our best interest to honor and learn from their example. 

Tom’s sermon at the downtown services this week is, “The Blessings of Hardship,” based on 2 Timothy 4:6-8; 16-18.  Life worship begins at 9:40 in Brady Hall.  Traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Mitch is preaching at the west campus, where contemporary worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.  His sermon is the second in a series titled, “Hope Floats: Dove,” based on Genesis 7:11-8:12. 

Come home to worship this Sunday.  Strugglers welcome!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Experiencing the Presence

Life Notes—October 14, 2010

“Refuse to come into the presence of the Lord and not experience it.”  Harvey Carey 

I love this quote.  I heard it last year at a worship conference.  I do not remember who said it, and I do not know who Harvey Carey is, but his words move me to my core.  If I asked where the presence of God is, what would you say?  Perhaps the most obvious answer would be, “Everywhere.”  But I also suspect you, like me, have places where it is easier to sense the presence of God than others.  One place (hopefully) is in worship.  Perhaps it is in the mountains, or other places where you feel close to nature.  Another, for me, is the area of my home where I most often go to pray, study and meditate.  I call it my nest.  There is something powerful about places where God has been sought for some time.  Ditto for places that are bathed in silence, or at least free from the sounds of the daily grind.  I have had the opportunity to be in a number of European cathedrals, some of which date back to the 13th century.  They absolutely ooze with a spiritual presence our 100+ year young sanctuary may dream of one day attaining.  Sounds linger longer.  People automatically speak softly, if at all, and walk pensively.  There is simply no doubt, the ground on which you stand is holy ground, made holier by centuries of worship, baptisms, confirmations, weddings and funerals.  The faithful through many ages, all seeking the One in the same space.  It leaves impressions.  It is simply unthinkable to enter such a place without sitting quietly and experiencing the Presence. 

And yet, that same presence, maybe less obviously, is alive and well in the worship places at First Church.  Our sanctuary has seen the turning of two centuries, two world wars, extreme racial tensions—traces of which linger within its walls.  Brady Hall and the Celebration Center hold the more recent memories of weddings and baptisms and gatherings of worship and fellowship.  Refuse to enter any of these sacred places without experiencing the presence of God-with-us lingering there. 

This Sunday opens a new worship chapter in the faith life at First Church, as we begin our fifth Sunday-morning worship service, this one at 11:00 at our west campus.  Like the other four services, it will be marked by good and worshipful music, insightful preaching and rooted in prayer and scripture.  It is a perfect combination for experiencing the presence of God, regardless of which service or location you chose to attend.  One thing is for certain: God will be equally present at all. 

Tom’s sermon the downtown services this week titled, “Praying for Justice,” based on Luke 18:1-8.  Life worship begins at 9:40 in Brady Hall.  Traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Mitch is preaching at the west campus, where contemporary worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.  His sermon is the first in a series titled, “Hope Floats: Ark,” based on Genesis 6:11-22. 

Come home to worship this Sunday.  Experience the Presence with us!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Healing Faith

Life Notes—October 7, 2010

“Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’”  Luke 17:19 

Once upon a time there were ten lepers.  Jesus approached their village and the lepers cried out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”  Jesus healed them and they went on their way.  All except one, a foreigner (a dreaded Samaritan), who came back to thank Jesus.  Christ’s response is one of the “Jesus lines” we read often, but I daresay poorly understand.  He said, “…your faith has made you well.” 

Does faith heal?  We know from many stories in the Bible that the presence of Jesus, along with faith in who he was, resulted in healing.  But what about today?  It is a difficult, heart-rending question, as we all know or know of people who have experienced miraculous healings, and we thank and praise God for the miracle of God’s grace.  Yet, we also know or know of people who have not experienced healing.  Faithful, good people who succumb to illness, addictions and violence.  Who or what determines who is healed and who is not?  And what role, if any, does faith play? 

I suspect the actual presence of Jesus was so awe-inspiring that people’s faith, in his day, skyrocketed.  To be around someone so wise and  prophetic—someone who could command the dead to rise and the lame to walk and the lepers to be made clean—would certainly suspend anyone’s unbelief. 

Without Jesus physically present to command us to be well, healing today involves the third person of the Trinity we call God—the Holy Spirit.  When Jesus departed the earth he said he would send the Holy Spirit to be present with us.  It is our faith that allows us to experience and draw on the power of the Spirit.  And where is the Spirit when bad things happen to good people?  Certainly present, in good times and in bad.  As with many things in life, healing can be a matter of perspective.  As we understand our earthly experience to be only a part of the life of a soul, we trust whatever incompleteness remains on earth will be completed in the eternal after-earth.  In this larger sense, we are healed already, regardless of our infirmity. While our faith may not heal us within the time and space confines of earth, our faith knows the wholeness we will attain in eternity.  Sometimes we must look farther than our eyes can see… 

Mitch will be preaching at the downtown services this week.  His sermon is titled, “Ten Little Lepers,” based on Luke 17:11-19.  Life worship begins at 9:40 in Brady Hall.  Traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Tom is preaching at the west campus, where contemporary worship is at 9:30.  His sermon is titled, “Practice Gratitude,” based on the same scripture. 

Come home to worship this Sunday.  Strugglers welcome!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator