Unpleasant Odors

Life Notes—March 31, 2011

“For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light.  Live as children of light—for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.  Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.  Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.”  Ephesians 5:8-11 

One late spring afternoon following the last college final of the semester, I headed to southern Missouri for a camping trip with friends.  It was very dark when I arrived and I didn’t have a flashlight.  I could see the dim lights of the restrooms some distance away and started walking towards them.  About halfway there I met someone with a flashlight heading back to the camping area.  As the arc of light illuminated the area around me I discovered I was surrounded by skunks.  If not for the light I might never have known how close I was to an unpleasant encounter. 

Many times in life I’ve been very near “unpleasant surprises” without being aware, until something happened to shed light on the situation—often the perspective gained from the passage of time.  And sometimes I find I have unintentionally made things unpleasant for others; but until someone illuminates the fruits of my behavior, I continue unaware. 

When we accept Jesus as the Savior and Illuminator of our lives, light begins to shine on everything we think, say and do.  And some of those things look and smell differently when exposed to the Light.  Just believing in God puts life in a different perspective because we’ve already made the leap of relying on a being that cannot be seen or scientifically proven to exist.  So we’ve gone beyond the sensual world (some would say we’ve lost our senses) into the extra-sensual world.  When seen through the eyes of faith, the world looks different.  We begin to see actions we thought were acceptable and fun, say gossiping, are actually very harmful.  We may discover we’re surrounded by ‘skunky’ situations that look good at first, but eventually turn rancid. 

What better time than Lent to take a look at our lives through the eyes of faith?  To reflect on our words, thoughts and actions in light of scripture; or as Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians, “Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.”  And no, I did not get sprayed by the skunks that night.  Once I saw what was surrounding me, I changed direction.  If it looks like a skunk and smells like a skunk, it’s probably a skunk… 

This Sunday Tom is preaching downtown and Mitch will be west.  Their sermon is “Cultivating Fruitfulness: Risk-Taking Mission & Service.”  This will be the fourth in the all-church Lenten series.  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. 

Is there an unpleasant odor in your life?  Maybe it’s time for a change in direction…

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

The Wrong Question

Life Notes—March 24, 2011

“A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink.’  The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’  Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”  John 4:7-10 

I went to grade school at Sumner Elementary School in Topeka, Kansas in the 1960’s.  Slightly before my time, Sumner was the “white” school.  Our society was divided by race and whites and blacks didn’t drink from the same water fountain, eat at the same food counter, ride in the same place on buses or go to the same school.  Sumner was one of the key players in the landmark Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education case, in which the US Supreme Court ended legal segregation by race in schools.  Young as I was, I had no idea.  One of my best friends, Clarence, was black and probably one of the first black kids to attend Sumner.  My mother confessed to me, years later, that she and my father feared what the neighbors thought when I had Clarence over to play.  Our society’s vision was black and white.  The question was race and the answer was segregation. 

In the passage above, a woman from Samaria comes to the well to draw water.  She finds a man resting by the well who asks her to draw water for him because he has no bucket.  The woman, focused on the racial/ethnic divisions of the day, questions why he, a Jew, would speak to her, a woman of Samaria.  It wasn’t an accepted cultural practice for Jews and Samaritans to interact.  But it was the wrong question.  Had she looked beyond race she might have recognized Jesus as the Messiah, the One who could give her ‘living water,’ a water of a different sort to quench a different kind of thirst.  As they interact, Jesus exposes her human frailties and suggests what he has to offer will fill needs she has otherwise been unable to satisfy.  The full story of the Samaritan woman at the well is found in John 4:5-32. 

Although we have come a long way from our segregated past, we still have trouble seeing past our differences in race, gender, ethnicity, age, sexual preference.  From our distorted vision, we often ask the wrong questions.  God did not create our world black and white, but multi-colored and multi-cultural.  It is the mixing and interacting of colors that creates true and unique beauty.  Instead of asking how a person is different from me, I should be asking how this encounter can enrich my life, as well as theirs. 

This Sunday Tom is preaching downtown and Mitch will be west.  Their sermon is “Cultivating Fruitfulness: Intentional Faith Development.”  This will be the third in the all-church Lenten series.  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.  Perhaps a vision correction is in order…

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Being Born Again

Life Notes—March 17, 2011

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews.  He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”  Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”  John 3:1-3 

.Nicodemus is an interesting character.  He was a member of the Sanhedrin, the group of 70 or so Jewish priests who made up the ruling religious council of the day.  For the most part the Sanhedrin opposed Jesus at every opportunity.  Ultimately, they turned him over to the Roman authorities for crucifixion.  They publicly accused him of blasphemy, of violating all manner of Jewish laws and of misleading his followers.  But Nicodemus was conflicted.  In the passage above he approaches Jesus at night to get a better grasp.  Nicodemus risked his standing with the Sanhedrin by being with Jesus at all.  But this night, in private, he questions Jesus about being born again.  I picture Nicodemus as being desperately torn between knowing Jesus likely was the Messiah, yet not wanting to fall prey to a foolish hoax.  In the end, however, Nicodemus assisted with the preparations for Christ’s burial (John 19:39).  The conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus on this night is worthy of our contemplation (John 3:1-17). 

If someone credibly claiming to be the Messiah were in Lawrence today, I would probably approach them much like Nicodemus approached Jesus.  I wouldn’t approach in the light of day for fear of being seen.  I wouldn’t approach with others around for fear of being accused of being a follower.  I would be curious, but I wouldn’t want to risk the socio-economic status I’d spent my life building, at least until I was certain they were who they said they were.  I would probably want to know others of my “kind” were accepting this Messiah before deciding to join them. 

Much is made of being “born again” in Protestant circles.  Some people can name a day and time they became “saved.”  For others, it is a gradual process.  For some, it is a curiosity they ponder and cautiously watch for in others.  But for all, it requires allowing one life to die so another can live.  Jesus tells us we must let go of our old life before the new one can begin.  The new life in Christ is not free, however.  Its price is our old life, where we rely on ourselves and live as if there is no tomorrow and as if we have no neighbors. 

This Sunday Tom is preaching downtown and Mitch will be west.  Their sermon is “Cultivating Fruitfulness: Passionate Worship.”  This will be the second in the all-church Lenten series.  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. 

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Endings and Beginnings

Life Notes—March 10, 2011 

He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.  The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”  But he answered, “It is written, ’One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”  Matthew 4:2-4 

Yesterday marked the beginning of Lent, the forty-day period leading to Easter.  In our church Lent officially begins with an Ash Wednesday service (held last night).  The service ends with the imposing of ashes in the shape of a cross on the forehead of participants.  The ashes are the burnt remains of the palm leaves used in last year’s Palm Sunday services, the Sunday which precedes Easter.  The act sort of book-ends the church year—the green, leafy palms by which we celebrate Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem become the ashes reminding us of Christ’s death on a cross on Golgotha. 

The symbolism is visible and powerful.  Palm leaves: to celebrate new life and new beginnings.  When Jesus entered Jerusalem many of his followers expected him to overtake the Roman rulers of the day, believing his kingship was of the earth.  There was a fever-pitch excitement, hoping their years of oppression would finally come to an end. 

But the palm leaves turn brown and die.  They are burned and become ash.  Ashes symbolize death and endings.  When Jesus was captured and bound and beaten by church and Roman authorities, and when he was crucified, the hopes and dreams of his people died with him on that cross.  The ashes placed on our forehead remind us of that sad end. 

Lent is intended to be a time of study and reflection, a time to grasp more deeply the trial and crucifixion of Christ so we can better understand and more fully celebrate His resurrection on Easter.  The forty days of Lent remind us of the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness, fasting and being tempted by the devil.  This was a time at the beginning of his ministry where he was tested and prepared for the challenges to come.  Lent is a time for us to prepare ourselves for our trials in life.  In the passage above, the devil tries to focus Jesus’ attention on his physical hunger.  Jesus responds with a spiritual focus.  The implication for us is that every physical need has a spiritual component and we need to attend to both.  As the new life of spring manifests around us, may we reflect on the new life within us, offered freely and perpetually through the grace of Christ. 

This Sunday Tom is preaching downtown and Mitch will be west.  Their sermon is “Cultivating Fruitfulness: Radical Hospitality.”  This will be the first in the all-church Lenten series.  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.  Come begin, again, with us.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Resilient Foundations

Life Notes—March 3, 2011

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.  The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock.” Matthew 7:24-25 

Several years ago we had a sunroom built onto the south side of our home. The contractor dug a trench, four feet deep and 18” wide, below what were to become the outside walls of the room, in order to pour the concrete foundation.  The foundation on which the room was to be built had to extend below the “frost line,” which in this part of the country is considered to be about three feet down.  The frost line is the point below which the ground is not expected to freeze, even in the coldest of winters.  It is important to have a foundation below the frost line to prevent it being heaved out of the ground, or shifted within the ground, as the freezing and thawing of winter and spring cause the ground and all within it to move.  If a foundation heaves, the house may fall.  For large buildings, foundations go much deeper than the frost line.  Large drills dig down to “bed-rock,” a relatively unchanging and solid shelf of rock, so the weight of the building is supported by concrete pillars standing on something even more solid and less likely to shift. 

In the passage above, Jesus tells the story of the wise man who built his house on rock.  A few verses later he contrasts that with a foolish man who built his house on sand.  When the winds and rains came the foolish man’s house fell, while the wise man’s house stood strong.  Of course, Jesus is alluding to the foundations of our lives.  What does it mean to have a deep, strong foundation?  Certainly, it means having a faith and a self-worth that goes deeper than the heaving—the difficulties and challenges—that occurs in the course of a lifetime.  We all know people without roots, or a deep enough foundation to stand strong against the storms of life.  We also know people who suffer heart-rending difficulty, yet remain strong.  Their foundations are deeply established on the Rock. 

People talk about the foundation laid for them by parents or other mentors.  Principles, values, faith and sense of worth stronger and more resilient than the ups and downs and ins and outs of our day-to-day existence—that makes a strong foundation for life.  We try to instill it in our children, foster it in our friends and family, and strengthen it through our church.  A life shaken to its core does not need to fall, if its foundation is strong. 

This Sunday Mitch is preaching downtown.  His sermon is “Will You Be My Rock?” based on Matthew 7:21-29.  Life worship is at 9:40 in Brady Hall and traditional worship in the sanctuary is at 8:30 and 11:00.  Tom is preaching at our west campus with “Mysteries of Faith: Believe Them, Or Not,” based on Matthew 17:1-9. Contemporary worship at the west campus is at 9:00 and 11:00. 

Come home to worship this Sunday.  And the rains came a-tumbling down…

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator