Harsh Judgments

Life Notes—February 24, 2011

“Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart.”  1 Corinthians 4:5a 

In third grade, my friend’s house (I’ll call him Luke) was between school and my home, so we often walked together.  Halfway between school and Luke’s house lived an annoying female classmate I’ll call Janie.  If Luke and I did not get out of school ahead of her, she would be waiting to taunt us from her porch or yard.  I was petrified of girls at that age, afraid they would try to kiss me or something (and probably secretly hoping they would).  Luke, having four sisters, had no fear of girls, just a huge aversion. 

One day Janie caught Luke and me on the sidewalk and refused to let us pass.  Luke had a book of matches in his pocket and lit one and threw it at her, trying to get her to move out of our way.  Several matches later she moved and we continued on our way, likely discussing the more bothersome of God’s creatures—like mosquitoes and, well, girls. 

The next morning I got called out of class and into the principal’s office.  I knew I was in big trouble.  I also knew I was being judged unfairly because I had not done anything.  Now, Mr. Walters was a calm, soft-spoken man who, in my eyes, was only slightly less worthy of adoration than Jesus.  To think I would disappoint him, or that I would be harshly and wrongly judged by him, was more than my eight-year-old emotions could handle.  Of course, he didn’t call me in because of what I did, he called me in because of what I didn’t do.  He helped me understand that being a passive observer of bad behavior is no better than being an active participant.  As I look back, Mr. Walters certainly knew that some boys who treat girls with disrespect as children, will grow up to be abusive men.  This wise man cared enough to not let this incident pass unchallenged. 

Most often, when we rush to judge others, we are either fearful, ignorant or both.  In the passage above, Paul warns not to pronounce judgment on others because so much is hidden from us.  When light has been shed, most situations look very different.  I judged Janie, a fellow child of God, as a mostly worthless annoyance.  I judged Mr. Walters for not understanding the situation.  It turns out, I was the one lacking understanding.  My fear and ignorance led to poor judgment, as it often does still today. 

This Sunday Tom continues his downtown sermon series “Who Are We?” with “Stewards of God’s Mysteries,” based on 1 Corinthians 4:1-5.  Life worship is at 9:40 in Brady Hall and traditional worship in the sanctuary is at 8:30 and 11:00.  Mitch continues his sermon series at the west campus with “Jesus Pushes: The Limits of Faith,” based on Matthew 6:24-34. Contemporary worship at the west campus is at 9:00 and 11:00. 

Come home to worship this Sunday.  Come explore the mysteries of God with us!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

The Foolishness of Christ

Life Notes—February 17, 2011

“Do not deceive yourselves.  If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise.  For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.  For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness’, and again, ‘The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.’”  1 Corinthians 3:18-20 

Jesus was a fool.  With his charisma, with his ability to draw and captivate large crowds, with his people desperately seeking a Messiah to lead them to freedom, imagine the possibilities!  Instead of dying an unspeakably painful death at a relatively young age, he could have lived a long life of luxury and ease.  No more hiking from town to town on dusty roads.  He could have been chauffeured in plush chariots, giving an occasional patronizing nod to the peasants on the road eating his dust.  He could have overthrown the Jewish authorities and taken on the Roman government, maybe even the entire Roman Empire.  No more sharing a few measly fish and loaves with crowds of thousands on a riverbank; but huge, lavish banquets in luxurious palaces.  No more washing the dirty, smelly feet of his disciples.  There would be servants for that.  Instead, he died humiliated, penniless and homeless.  What a foolish waste of talent and influence… 

Who among us, given his two very different life-options, would choose with Jesus?  One road leading to fame and fortune and a life of ease; one road leading to pain, suffering and an early exit from the earth.  Don’t we, most of us, strive to make our lives easier, longer and less painful?  Isn’t that the wise thing to do?  What did Jesus know that we do not?  Was he a fool, or was he wise in ways beyond our knowledge? 

In his first letter to the church at Corinth, Paul says we should become fools in order to become wise.  He says our wisdom is foolishness to God. Similar themes are repeated many times in scripture.  What appears to be the correct and wise thing to do on earth must not always appear so wise, when taken in the context of the larger reality of heaven and earth.  We get the earth-part, but the heaven-part is hidden from us.  When we focus on one, ignoring the other, we appear wise in one reality and foolish in the other.  Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…” (Matt. 6:19).  So, how are we to proceed wisely in life, then, with so much hidden from us?  My best guess is to stay close to the areas where heaven and earth meet.  In prayer, for example. 

This Sunday Tom continues his downtown sermon series “Who Are We?” with “God’s Temple,” based on 1 Corinthians 3:10-11,16-23.  Life worship is at 9:40 in Brady Hall and traditional worship in the sanctuary is at 8:30 and 11:00.  Mitch continues his sermon series at the west campus with “Jesus Pushes: The Limits of Love,” based on Matthew 5:38-48. Contemporary worship at the west campus is at 9:00 and 11:00. 

Come home to worship this Sunday.  Join the foolish and wise among us!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

To Be or Not To Be (of the flesh)

Life Notes—February 10, 2011

“And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.  Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh.  For so long as there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?”  1 Corinthians 3:1,3 

Being of the flesh is not a bad thing.  In fact I enjoy it most days, as I believe I was created to do.  It is a blessing to use my earthly senses to smell, taste, touch, see and hear God’s creation.  There are sunsets, seasons, flowers, intimacy, food and all manner of earthly pleasures to experience and enjoy.  There is also pain, loss, sickness, evil and all manner of less-than-pleasant experiences to endure.  It is all part of being of the flesh. 

Where being of the flesh hangs us up is in trying to look deeper than the obvious to catch a glimpse of the greater picture of our lives.  Perhaps our greatest lack, being of the flesh, is perspective.  We live in the moment, which is a wonderful place; in fact, it is the only place we are fully capable of living.  But “the moment” is actually infinitely more complex than we can know.  For example, if I stick a pin in a map at the exact location I am sitting, I find myself in the middle of an infinite number of points in space—points to the north, south, east, west and everywhere in between.  In a three-dimensional map I am also in the middle of points above and below.  In a four-dimensional map (with time as the fourth dimension) I am at a point in time and space where that which has happened before and that which has yet to happen converge. 

Being of the flesh, we can only tangibly grasp the inputs coming through our earthly senses.  The rest is left to imagination or faith.  Without the ability to transcend our earthly natures, we know this train called Life is headed somewhere, but we have no idea where.  From our earthly perspective, we cannot see how the influences in space and time led to this moment.  And only by faith do we know we are headed somewhere good.  In the passage above, as in others in his letters, Paul encourages us to be “of” the flesh, but not “in” the flesh.  To me this means we live “in” the world, with all its imperfect uncertainty, but we find balance by being “of” a greater reality—the world of the Spirit, where we find meaning and hope, healing and completion through faith.  Living in the trees, we cannot see the forest…but we know it’s there. 

This Sunday Tom begins a downtown sermon series entitled “Who Are We?”  The first sermon is “God’s Servants,” based on 1 Corinthians 3:1-9.  Life worship is at 9:40 in Brady Hall and traditional worship in the sanctuary is at 8:30 and 11:00.  Mitch begins a sermon series at the west campus entitled, “Jesus Pushes.”  This Sunday’s sermon is “The Limits of Morality,” based on Matthew 5:21-37. Contemporary worship at the west campus is at 9:00 and 11:00. 

Come home to worship this Sunday.  Be both in and of worship!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Letting Your Light Shine

Life Notes—February 3, 2011

“You are the light of the world.  A city built on a hill cannot be hid.  No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your father in heaven.”  Matthew 5:14-16 

In grade school, the Beatles magically appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and I was hooked.  I dreamed of playing the guitar and becoming famous, loved and revered by everyone!  I dug out my dad’s old guitar and, with the help of a chord book, learned how to finger a few chords.  I mowed lawns all one summer to buy a guitar of my own.  I practiced and dreamed and practiced and dreamed.  In junior high I began performing in bands and was “on my way!” 

After many years of performing and writing and still not being able to meaningfully support myself without working other jobs (not to mention not being famous, loved or revered by anyone), I was sick of my dream.  I didn’t like performing in clubs or the music I was playing or the music I was writing.  So, I quit.  Selling most of my equipment, I prepared for a non-musical life.  In the context of the scripture above, the lamp I had lit and nourished for years was now hidden under a bushel basket.  Miserable in pursuing my dream, it was time to move on. 

Sometime later, Carrie and I were married, became members of First Church and were promptly recruited as youth sponsors.  A few weeks into that adventure the youth director mentioned how they really needed a guitar player.  So, I began leading songs for the youth group.  In the early 1990’s the senior pastor wanted to start a new type of worship service—a “contemporary” service with guitars and some of the songs we were singing with the youth.  Fast-forward 20+ years and I’m having the most fulfilling fun of my musical life as a Christian musician.  Famous?  Certainly not.  But I have a life I love, a church family I love and a place for my lamp to shine!  

What lamp (talent) are you hiding under a bushel basket?  Maybe your gift is making others feel welcome.  Do you cook or clean or make videos?  Can you teach or babysit or fix things or make phone calls or run errands or visit the homebound or stuff envelopes or pray or read or sing or encourage others or paint or dance or hug or ______________(fill in the blank)?  Your church and those of us around you need your light to shine!  

This Sunday is United Methodist Women’s Sunday and worship at both campuses will be led by women.  Rev. Janet Maxwell will preach downtown, where Life worship is at 9:40 in Brady Hall and traditional worship in the sanctuary is at 8:30 and 11:00.  Rev. Jan Todd is preaching at the west campus, where contemporary worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.  

Come home to worship.  Sometimes our light just needs to find the right place to shine!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator