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Archive for January, 2011

Simply Awesomely Simple

Life Notes—January 27, 2011

“…what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”  Micah 6:8b 

There are about 2500 pages in my New Oxford Annotated Study Bible.  The prophet Micah was allotted nine of those pages, a fraction of 1% of the whole.  Not only that, his book is not easy to find, nestled near the end of the Old Testament.  I suspect if Micah had a “greatest hits” collection it would consist of a single passage—the one I quote above.  Micah is said to have been a contemporary of Isaiah, although he was very much a commoner of the time, not of noble descent or even from a major city. 

Even so, I believe the 22 words above may be the clearest, most easily-understood summary of God’s instruction to us in the entire Bible.  What does the Lord require of us?  Be just, be kind and be humble.  How much simpler can it get?  Easily understood and easily remembered.

Justice: the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness or moral rightness.

Kindness: of a good or benevolent nature or disposition. 

Humbleness: not proud or arrogant; modest; courteously respectful. 

If this passage is a clear direction from God intended to guide our lives, we must be expected to wrestle with its application daily.  Justice, kindness and humbleness are largely subjective terms—defined through the eyes of the recipient—so their specific application may change from situation to situation.  Even so, they give us a window from which to assess our thoughts, words, plans and actions.  Are they just?  Are they kind?  Do they reflect humbleness?  If the answer to any of these queries is “No,” what should we do about it?  These can be great discussion-starters with God.  Asking these questions, in prayer or in conversation, is a way to build or strengthen our relationship with our creator and others, regardless of the answers we may or may not receive. 

Of course, for me, it is always easier to reflect on how these principles apply to the behavior of others, particularly those closest to me.  However, the scripture clearly says, “…what does the Lord require of YOU…” i.e., me.  Unfortunately, these qualities do not come naturally to me.  Easily understood, yes.  Easily followed, no… 

Mitch will be preaching at the downtown services this Sunday.  His sermon title is “Waltz” and is based on the scripture Micah 6:1-8.  Life worship is at 9:40 in Brady Hall; traditional worship in the sanctuary is at 8:30 and 11:00.  Tom is preaching at the west campus.  His sermon title is “The Secret to Happiness,” based on Matthew 5:1-12.  Contemporary worship at the west campus is at 9:00 and 11:00.  

Come home to worship this Sunday.  Walk humbly with your God through our doors…

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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Seeing Inside Out

Life Notes—January 20, 2011

“Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day…because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”  II Corinthians 4:16, 18 

Regular readers of Life Notes know I am no fan of the obvious.  I believe our earthly existence is animated by forces we cannot see and that our physical existence has deep spiritual roots that trail into the unseen recesses of space and time.  What we see today is the product of a complex set of actions and choices, most made long ago, and we simply cannot trace all the threads of cause that weave the tapestry of today’s experience. 

Can I prove it?  Can I see the oak tree in the acorn, or the adult in the embryo?  Of course not.  Life on Earth is full of unseen potential, waiting and wanting to express in all the glory it was created to become.  In our time-limited existence we only capture snap-shots of the greater reality of which we are a part.  We experience moments, but remain blind to the whole.  In missing the whole, we also miss our intimate interconnections. 

It is this lack of obviousness that makes many religious teachings confounding.  Why couldn’t Jesus just tell us what we needed to know in ‘plain English’?  I suggest it is because Truth—real, honest-to-goodness, no-kidding, this-is-the-way-it-really-is Truth—cannot be reduced to words.  Since biblical writers couldn’t always put Truth into words for us to understand, they often talked around it.  Jesus used parables and cryptic sayings that we can ponder many times and often interpret in new ways.  These teachings challenge us to see with new eyes, eyes that perceive beyond what is visible. 

Am I wrong?  Maybe; but it’ll never be proven this side of the grave.  And we’ll never understand the fullness of the life and teachings of Christ until we look beyond the obvious.  Our earthly eyes see on the basis of differences—differences in light and shadow. They perceive separateness, not likeness.  Our surface differences are interpreted, incorrectly, as differences in essence.  We categorize and discriminate by gender, color, age, sexual preference.  In the words of Paul to the Corinthians, “What is seen is temporary, what is unseen is eternal.”  The Truth lies in the realm of the unseen. 

This Sunday is Reconciling Sunday. The Rev. Fritz Mutti will be speaking at the downtown services, and his wife, Etta Mae, will speak at the west campus.  Rev. Mutti, the former Bishop of the Kansas East Conference, and his wife have compelling messages to share.  “A Message of Reconciliation for Everyone” will be rooted in the scripture found in II Corinthians 4:16-18 and 5:16-20.  Life worship is at 9:40 in Brady Hall; traditional worship in the sanctuary is at 8:30 and 11:00.  Worship at the west campus is at 9:00 and 11:00. 

Come home to worship this Sunday.  Wander into the less-than-obvious with us!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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Blame Me for Tucson

Life Notes—January 13, 2011

“’Can a blind person guide a blind person?  Will not both fall into a pit?…Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?…You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.’”  Luke 6:39b-42 

As a child I was told the one finger I pointed in blame at another left three pointing back at me.  An Anthropology professor and mentor told me our external environment is but a reflection of our inner reality.  In business I’ve learned I cannot positively impact anything I won’t take responsibility for.  Jesus’ words above warn me to be careful judging the sins and shortcomings of others until I’ve taken a good look at myself. 

So, I’ve done some serious soul-searching since the Tucson tragedy last Saturday, where six people were fatally shot and many more wounded at a political appearance in a shopping area.  Many have been quick to blame politicians or causes or lax gun laws.  I have tried to look within.  What in me is reflected in this violent tragedy?  I am not proud of what I’ve discovered.  First of all, why does this event, tragic as it was, rise to such a high level of awareness?  Is it worse than the six people murdered every four days in New York City alone?  What socio-economic and/or racial bias makes my heart ache for one tragic event and not others?  Why not the 400 people who die every day of a stroke?  Is that not equally tragic for the victims and their loved ones?  Our world is full of hurt. 

This week, I have listened more intently to my internal dialogue and too frequently there are violent wishes against others.  I am not a physically violent person (although verbal violence occasionally slips from my lips).  Yet sometimes, in my mind, I want to see others suffer for (what in my mind is) their stupidity, carelessness or selfishness.  Is my sin less than those who physically act out their violent and hurtful thoughts? 

The Tucson shooter was mentally troubled.  How many times have I been aware of insurance companies and public servants cutting mental health benefits and services; yet, as a consumer and constituent, I have never protested.  With events like Tucson, there is plenty of blame to go around.  Are people anxious to place blame because once they’ve named a cause for a tragedy they believe they’ve done their part?  That, in itself, is tragic.  I encourage you, with me, to look closely within.  In the words of St. Seraphim of Sarov, “If you alone find inner peace, thousands around you will be saved.” 

This Sunday is Youth Sunday at all downtown services.  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 “Make Some Waves,” based on Exodus 14:21-25. 

Come home to worship this Sunday.  Seek first the Kingdom of God…

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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Living the Gospel

Life Notes—January 6, 2011

“…Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor…”  Luke 18:24 

“But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.  And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you…”  Luke14:13-14

I have known Joe longer than any other friend.  Our mothers put us in neighboring cribs in the church nursery in our youngest months.  We have been around each other off and on for our entire lives, although the “off” periods typically stretch many years.  Joe has always been ahead of me in applying his faith to his life, and I look up to him for that. 

Earlier this week, Joe posted a narrative on his Facebook page entitled, “The Best Christmas Party Ever.”  Here’s the summary: the preacher of a small church in the small town where Joe lives preached on Luke 18:24 (above).  He challenged his congregation to choose one thing they valued and sell it.  They did and this small congregation raised over $11,000.  With that money, they threw a huge Christmas party!  Invitations to the party went to 107 people, whose names they got from the local welfare office.  Each person on the list was contacted and asked what they would like for Christmas.  The local events center was rented, decorations hung, Christmas dinner catered, and mountains of presents were purchased and distributed to the poor of their community.  At the banquet the preacher said, “We just wanted to let you all know that God really does love you, and that he has not forgotten you at Christmas.”  If you’d like Joe’s narrative of this event, let me know (ghildenbrand@sunflower.com). 

I admit events like this, and the scriptures above, make me feel more than a little guilty.  I like comfort.  I like my warm home and my big screen, HD TV.  I like having many musical instruments, even when most collect dust.  When I compare an extravagant banquet thrown for the poor to my meager and infrequent mission efforts, I question my commitment to following Christ.  That is until I look at what is done for the poor through my church, locally and globally.  I look at the various missions (Jubilee Café, Family Promise, MiLK, etc.), the support groups, the covenant groups, the visiting, relief and health ministries, and I know we are right in the middle of some of the greatest suffering on earth. And where my church is, there I am also. Are we doing enough?  Maybe not, but we’re doing something.  It’s about recognizing the poor and disadvantaged and letting them know God loves and cares for them.  There are many ways to share that message, and most ways do not require us to become poor and disadvantaged.  Mother Teresa told a friend of mine once we can only lift others up from a position higher than theirs. 

This Sunday, Tom’s downtown sermon title is “Going About and Doing Good,” based on the scripture Acts 10:34-43.  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 “Become a Super Fan,” based on Joshua 24:14-18. 

Come home to worship this Sunday.  I can do more in 2011, how about you?

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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