Archive for December, 2010

Baby Steps

Life Notes—December 30, 2010

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”  Ecclesiastes 3:1

Advent is over and the baby has been born.  So what now?  Perhaps we begin with a reassessment of what Advent is really about.  Sure, it is a time of preparation, a time to prepare our hearts and minds to recognize, celebrate and honor the birth of Emmanuel—God with us.  We prepare to receive, again, the birth of Christ into our world and acknowledge the impact of that simple birth on our lives still today.  But if that is all Advent is about, then Advent ends with the birth, right? 

No, there is another angle to Advent.  It involves preparation for an event; but for an event that has yet to happen: the return of Christ to earth.  Years ago I came to believe the Second Coming occurred when an individual accepted Christ’s Lordship over their life.  It was a personal event between a person and Christ.  While I still believe that to be true, that is not exactly the biblical version of the Second Coming. 

If Jesus Christ came to our church this Sunday, what would we do?  If he asked to join you for dinner, how would you prepare?  Somehow, I don’t think picking up the clutter, vacuuming the carpets and dusting the pictures would suffice.  I suspect Jesus would be more interested in how focused we are on feeding his sheep.  Are we taking care of our physical and spiritual health in order to be useful instruments for his purposes?  Are we being good stewards over that which has been entrusted to us?  Are we hoarding our abundance for a rainy day, or sharing with those who have needs this day? 

Honestly, I look at what I need to do to prepare to meet Christ and I see an enormous mountain.  But all mountains are scaled one step at a time.  When Jesus walked the earth he met people where and how they were, and focused their hearts and minds on whose they were and what they were to become.  We are not called to reach the summit today; rather, to progress on the journey.  Like a newborn, we can take baby steps.  I don’t know what that means for you.  Committing to regular prayer time?  Maybe joining the Jubilee Café or LINK crews or mending a relationship.  Maybe it’s joining a Covenant group or Sunday School class.  Recycling?  Giving blood?  There are many starting points.  The child has been born and the Savior is coming—we just do not know when.  But we all know a few baby steps we can take to begin preparing.  Once we take those steps, others will appear.  And just when we thought Advent was over…a new life begins. 

This Sunday, Tom’s downtown sermon title is “The Right Time,” based on the scripture Ecclesiastes 3:1-16.  Life worship is at 9:40 in Brady Hall; traditional worship in the sanctuary is at 8:30 and 11:00.  Mitch will preach at the west campus, where worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.  His sermon is “Get Your Groove On,” based on Psalm 30. 

Come home to worship this Sunday.  Come take a few baby steps with us.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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Immaculate Perception

Life Notes—December 23, 2010

“The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be great…’”  Luke 1:31-32a

 The past four weeks I have focused on the four themes of Advent.  The first theme is Hope.  The second is Peace.  The third, Joy; and the fourth, Love.  Hope, Peace, Joy and Love.  It is too-true that each of these themes has one or more cheap and all-too-common imitations.  For Hope the cheap imitation may be wishing.  For Peace it is the type of silence that is quiet on the surface, but churns below.  Joy is often confused with happiness, and Love with lust. 

The Christmas story tells of an Immaculate Conception.  Mary was impregnated, not by man, but by the Holy Spirit so that Jesus was conceived pure and sinless.  He was fully human, yet more than human.  While some argue the details of the birth of Christ, let us consider Immaculate Conception.  What distinguishes love from lust, or hope from wishing, or joy from happiness?  I suggest it involves impregnation by Spirit.  Earthly bodies can be created from materials of the earth; but they cannot be animated, or brought to life.  That requires Spirit.  Lust is something of the earth longing for something else of the earth.  Love will not settle for the temporary satisfactions of lust because true love is conceived and animated by the Spirit—Love demands more.  Hope, Peace, Joy and Love prosper where earth and Spirit unite, as they came together in the birth and life of Jesus. 

That which is immaculately conceived requires time and attention to grow and develop, like a new-born child. All things worth treasuring are impregnated by the Spirit; things like Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. The shortcoming of things of the earth is they will forever be things of the earth. When they are animated by Spirit they take on the characteristics of the eternal. Recognizing animation by the Spirit requires Immaculate Perception. It is how we distinguish between the real deal and the cheap imitation. When we know, invite and celebrate the Spirit intersecting in our lives, our everyday lives become reborn deeper and richer, although others may ‘see’ nothing different. When we allow the Spirit to enter and animate our lives—as did a humble, teenage girl centuries ago—the earthly unites with the eternal in us. With Mary we say, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) 

There will be five services this Christmas Eve.  Life communion and candlelight service is at 11:00 PM in Brady Hall.  A traditional service will be in the sanctuary at 7:00. There will be family services at 4:00 and 5:30 at the west campus, with a contemporary communion service at 7:00.  This Sunday’s worship services will be at 9:00 west and 10:00 downtown. 

Come home to worship this Christmas.  Don’t settle for a cheap imitation…

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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An Inclusive Love

Life Notes—December 16, 2010

“All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.  What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”  John 1:3-5 

The first eighteen verses of the first chapter of John, sometimes referred to as The Prologue, make up my favorite passage in the entire Bible.  It tells the creation story; it tells about the birth and life of Jesus; it tells of God’s longing to be in relationship with us, all in four not-so-easy to understand paragraphs.  It is written in a mystical, cryptic style that is unlike the remainder of this mostly straight-forward Gospel.  I can read and reread it and come away with new insights or understandings. 

In the passage above, John writes, “All things came into being through him…”  If there was a Gospel of Greg, it would read something like this: “All people came to earth via God.”  God is the source of our being.  Our souls leave a fellowship with God to come to earth for a time, and when that time is up our souls return to God.  In the meantime, we only know God as this mysterious, hidden, confounding being that, for all our efforts, we cannot bring to a comfortable familiarity.  The reality of the Spirit cannot be seen, heard or touched by our earthly senses.  By faithful observation and pensive reflection—and sometimes by dumb luck—we recognize there is more to life than our senses detect.  A whole lot more.  And we often find ourselves longing for more, though we cannot always put our finger on what we lack. 

The theme of the fourth Sunday of Advent is Love.  We all need love, be it romantic love, the love of friends and family, the acceptance of those important to us. The love we crave on earth may be a manifestation of our subconscious desire to be reunited with the God who, although ever-present, resides just beyond our conscious grasp.  If lust seeks to satisfy earthly desires, Love seeks more—something inclusive of our earthly state, but with deeper roots.  Real Love is animated—brought to Life—by Spirit.  The Christmas story tells how Jesus was conceived by the uniting of the Spirit of the Most High and the body of Mary.  Heaven and earth came together to form something more than either alone could produce.  Jesus walked the earth, fully Spirit and fully human. Could that be the Love we seek, Love that manifests both heaven and earth?  When the Spirit animates us, our lives become a Light to others.  And the darkness, evil, ignorance, violence and illness of this earth cannot overcome the Light of that kind of Love. 

This Sunday Tom will be preaching downtown. Life worship is at 9:40 in Brady Hall; traditional worship in the sanctuary is at 8:30 and 11:00.  Mitch will preach at the west campus, where worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.  The sermon title at both campuses is “Shining the Light,” based on John 1:1-9. 

Come home to worship this Sunday.  All you need is Love…Love is all you need!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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The Roots of Joy

Life Notes—December 9, 2010

When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.  Luke 2:17-18 

Happy Holidays!  Merry Christmas!  We want those we love to be happy at Christmas, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting happiness, right?  I devote a good deal of effort seeking happiness. Yet, nothing in the Christmas story speaks of happiness.  In fact, the first Christmas probably was not a happy time at all.  Mary and Joseph made the long, difficult journey to Bethlehem only to be unable to find a place to stay.  They were forced to find shelter with farm animals, likely in a dark, smelly, cold cave.  And in that harshest of places, Mary gave birth to Jesus.  Indeed, Christmas today is anything but a happy time for many.  People without homes or shelter or enough food.  People who are lonely or ill.  Victims of violence or addictions.  People succumbing to the over-the-top expectations of the commercialized mega-event we have allowed Christmas to become. 

Although the Christmas story does not speak of happiness, it does speak of “great joy.”  Should we be wishing each other joy for Christmas, rather than happiness?  I believe so, and here is why: Joy has roots.  When the presents have been opened; when the food has been consumed; when family and friends have vacated the premises; when unrealistic expectations have gone unmet (again); happiness dissipates. 

Those seeking joy this holiday season will have to work for it.  Like so many things worth having, joy cannot be purchased in a store nor obtained by cooking through the night.  It is not found at the “best” Christmas parties or by having our homes decorated just right.  Joy will not be found under the Christmas tree.  Finding joy requires a completely different focus of effort and expenditure of resources. The roots of joy are in faith, and we must plant ourselves deeply in a life unseen to allow joy to grow and prosper.  Joy grows as we weather the ups and downs of life through time and still proclaim life as amazingly good, albeit sometimes unpleasant. 

So yes, I wish you the Joy of Christmas. Don’t, however, be too quick to thank me. Finding joy requires the carving out of significant quiet time to absorb the true essence of the season.  Expect to miss much of what Christmas has become, in return for gaining a measure of what Christmas truly is. Expect a Savior and, over time, expect a lasting joy that no earthly distraction can diminish. 

The theme for this third Sunday of Advent is Joy.  Tom will be preaching downtown. Life worship is at 9:40 in Brady Hall; traditional worship in the sanctuary is at 8:30 and 11:00.  Mitch will preach at the west campus, where worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.  The sermon title at both campuses is “Embracing the Light,” based on Luke 2:15-20. 

Come home to worship this Sunday.  Establish roots of joy with us this Christmas.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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Peace on Earth?

Life Notes—December 2, 2010

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”  Luke 2:13-14 

One of the traditional images of Christmas is that of Peace.  We sing, “Sleep in heavenly peace.”  Banners read, “Peace on Earth!”  In Isaiah 9:6 the coming Jesus is named the Prince of Peace.  Christians have been celebrating this Prince of Peace for two thousand years; so, where’s the peace?  The Korean peninsula is on the verge of war (again).  Across the globe there are civil wars, genocide, infanticide, ethnic cleansing.  In our cities, assaults and murders are too common.  The Middle East, the birthplace of at least three of the world’s major religions, is a perennial hotbed of violence and war.  Physical violence and peace cannot coexist.  Ditto for peace and emotional violence or abuse.  So I ask again, where is this peace we celebrate at Christmas? 

If peace is the absence of violence, peace on earth may not be possible.  Everything in our world is temporal and constantly changing.  Nothing of the earth was created to last.  Everything forms, exists for a time and then changes to something else.  Our souls clothe themselves in materials of the earth at birth and leave them behind at death.  Violence is largely, if not entirely, a manifestation of want—want of property, want of power, want of attention, want of security.  Indeed, violence is often an outgrowth of insecurity; and insecurity runs wild in unstable environments, like earth.  In contrast, the peace of Christ is an internal peace: stability and certainty in an unstable and uncertain world.  When we find the peace of Christ, the peace that passes all understanding, we take that peace wherever we go, into whatever circumstance we find ourselves.  From that holy center within—where Creator and creation meet—peace radiates outward, helping bring a measure of peace to our surroundings.  Like a candle in the darkness.  And others are drawn to it. 

Peace on earth begins within each of us.  Internal peace is bestowed through the favor of God.  The favor of God is attained by developing a relationship with God.  Although that relationship is up to each individual to cultivate, a good church can help. 

Would a peaceful song help you find inner peace this Christmas?  Let me send you one as a gift.  Email me at ghildenbrand@sunflower.com, and I’ll give you “Peace.” 

Sunday is the second Sunday of Advent and the theme is Peace.  Tom will be preaching downtown. Life worship is at 9:40 in Brady Hall; traditional worship in the sanctuary is at 8:30 and 11:00.  Mitch will preach at the west campus, where worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.  The sermon title at both campuses is “Finding the Light,” based on Luke 2:8-15. 

Come home to worship this Sunday.  Many centers, One peace…

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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