Wrestling With Doubt

Life Notes—April 28, 2011

“(But Thomas) said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”  John 20:25b 

My daughter, Grace, was suspicious of Santa Claus almost from the beginning.  The whole “old fat man coming down the chimney” routine was a stretch for her to unconditionally believe.  Reflecting back, it is a little creepy, plus we didn’t even have a chimney.  She would try to stay awake on Christmas Eve to settle the mystery, but her little body always gave in to sleep before the presents arrived.  My son, Reid, was more utilitarian.  Whether Santa was real or not wasn’t the point.  The point was to play along with the myth and get lots of presents.  Why sweat the “small” stuff? 

In the days following his resurrection, Jesus appeared to many of his disciples: conversed with them, ate with them, helped them understand what was happening.  They had proof positive he had risen from the grave and was their promised Messiah.  But “Doubting” Thomas had not been present for these appearances and he refused to believe until he could actually feel the holes in Jesus’ hands. 

And this is the crux of our faith dilemma still today.  Because Jesus’ kingdom is not of the earth, because he is not physically present, and because we are quick to accept ‘logical’ explanations for most miracles, it can be saner not to believe.  Science teaches us to seek proof before believing.  But science is of the world we see and hear and touch, and there is another world beyond our senses.  Both worlds co-exist within us.  To further complicate matters, the rules are different in the two worlds.  In one we are told to live today as if there’s no tomorrow; in the other we are told our tomorrow is shaped by our choices today.  One world seemingly ends at death, when awareness of the other begins. 

Some people believe with ease.  For others, belief is an on-going struggle.  I fall in with the latter.  I had little to do with Christianity as a young adult.  My search for Truth led me to abandon what I was taught in Sunday school as too much to accept at face value.  But it was that same search that eventually led me to see my everyday life in ways that were unexplainable, except by the very lessons taught in Sunday school.  I am still a skeptical, doubtful person. But persisting in the search for Truth, wrestling over issues of faith, can lead us to the same place as those with unwavering faith—just as if we, like Thomas, were allowed to put our fingers in the holes in Jesus’ hands… 

This Sunday Tom is downtown and Mitch will be at the west campus.  Their sermon title is “Growing in Faith Together,” based on the scripture Mark 4:1-9.  Life worship is at 9:40 in Brady Hall, and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Contemporary worship at the west campus is at 9:00 and 11:00. 

Come home to church this Sunday.  Doubting wrestlers are welcome!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Plagued by Pixies

Life Notes—April 21, 2011

The next day…the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember what that imposter said while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’  Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day…”   Matthew 27:62-64a 

I played in rock bands as a teenager.  Without getting too deep into electrical jargon, my band days taught painful lessons about “polarity pixies.”  These mysterious, mischievous and invisible creatures doled out electrical shocks, apparently whenever we did not pay appropriate homage to the electricity Gods. Trust me, nothing spells shame and humiliation like catching the eye of a cute female in the audience, only to be reduced to tears by a mini lightening bolt arcing between the microphone and your lips. 

For leaders of the first centuryTemple, nothing spelled shame and humiliation like Jesus.  Because they refused to believe the possibility of his Lordship they continually put themselves in situations where they ended up looking shockingly petty and incompetent.  They, like most Jews, were expecting a Messiah but could not accept it might be someone with his peasant background, simple lifestyle and suspect social status. This unwillingness to believe led to a series of confounding miscalculations, all of which put them on the shameful, humiliating side of reality; as if they were plagued by pixies. 

In the scripture above, theTempleleaders tried to insure no tricks would be played by Jesus’ disciples.  They feared the disciples would steal the dead body from the tomb to make it look as if Jesus had risen from the dead, as he said he would do.  So they went to Pilate, the Roman governor, and requested the tomb be guarded until the third day to prevent such shenanigans.  Pilate granted their wish, but on the third day the tomb was empty, anyway.  Can you say, “You can’t keep a good man down?” 

In spite of their efforts to keep Jesus dead in his grave, on that morning the tomb was empty and Jesus was alive!  This must have been the ultimate shame for the religious elite because they couldn’t get the upper hand, even after they’d had him crucified.  Of course those who believe know God will not be cornered, tricked, outsmarted or defeated.  Denying God’s reality doesn’t change our life experience, it only makes it more confounding.  TheTempleleaders’ denial of Christ’s deity couldn’t keep Jesus dead in the tomb.  Still today, that empty tomb signifies his Lordship and our salvation! 

This Sunday is Easter.  Tom’s downtown sermon is “Easter People,” based on Matthew 28:1-10.  Some worship times have changed for Easter. Life worship begins at 9:30, and traditional worship is at 8:00 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Mitch will be preaching at the west campus where worship services will be at 7:00, 9:00 and 11:00.  

Come home to church this Sunday.  He has risen from the dead—how about you?

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Confusing Terminology

Life Notes—April 14, 2011

“The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest heaven!’”  Matthew 21:9 

As Jesus made his entry into Jerusalem on what was to be the final week of his life on earth, crowds welcomed him, waving palm branches and shouting “Hosanna!”  The term hosanna is translated as “save us.”  It was originally an appeal to God for deliverance and was also used as a term of praise or adoration.  Old Testament scriptures wrote that a Savior would come to deliver God’s people from bondage.  This Savior, or Messiah, would be their King.  The Jewish people had long expected the coming of their Messiah, and the celebrating was surely intense with his triumphant arrival into Jerusalem. 

However, the coming of this long-awaited King was not greeted enthusiastically by all.  For the Romans, a new “King” posed a serious threat to their governing authority.  For the Jewish leaders, the coming of the Messiah was a threat to their spiritual authority.  This Jesus-of-the-nothing-town-of-Nazareth had already been a thorn in their sides for several years.  The Temple leadership and Roman government had an uneasy, but workable truce and neither wanted the precarious peace disrupted. 

The crowds expected their new King to overthrow the Romans and set them free from the oppression they had been subjected to for countless generations.  That’s why they were so excited to see Jesus entering town on a donkey, as had been prophesied in Scripture.  That’s also why they were so disappointed and quick to turn on Jesus when they realized he had no intention of overthrowing the Romans.  The oppression he came to save from had nothing to do with Roman rule, but with the oppression of personal sin. 

What we had was a failure to communicate.  The term King, as the crowds and Romans understood it, was a very different type of king than Jesus was to be.  In spite of trying to draw the distinction throughout his ministry, his followers had difficulty distinguishing between the kingdom of earth and the kingdom of heaven.  We have that difficulty still today.  We look to reap the rewards of our faithful followership of Christ in the kingdom of earth, when our true harvest will be in the kingdom of heaven.  The terminology can be confusing.  Even so, through the ages we shout, “Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 

This Sunday is Palm/Passion Sunday, the final Sunday before Easter. Tom will be preaching at the west campus and Mitch will be downtown.  All services will begin with a celebration of Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem, but end with recognition of the painful events leading to his crucifixion.  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 church this Sunday.  Enter into this holiest of weeks with us…

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Beautiful and Abundant

Life Notes—April 7, 2011

“The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.”  2 Corinthians 9:6, 8 

Recently I read the fascinating book Beautiful and Abundant, by Bryan Welch.  It is a thought-provoking, optimistic and visionary treatise on how we can build a world we want for ourselves and for future generations.  Welch asks us to consider our current and future actions in light of four queries: (1) Is it beautiful? (2) Does it create abundance? (3) Is it fair? (4) Is it contagious?  By considering our lives in light of these queries we begin to take a more introspective and longer-term view of life as it is today, as well as the impact our actions may have on the lives of our children and our children’s children. 

In his letter to the Corinthians Paul discusses “sowing bountifully” in order to “reap bountifully,” and how God provides us with “every blessing in abundance” so that as we realize we have enough of everything we will “share abundantly in every good work.”  Paul’s point is that what we receive from life is directly related to what we give.  A farmer cannot sow a half-acre and reap a hundred acres.  Bryan’s point is similar. 

What we give depends on our attitude about how much of what we already have is enough.  The home Carrie and I bought when our children were young may look excessively large as we stare into the fast-approaching empty nest reality.  As we reflect on what we have vs. how much we need vs. how our excess could enrich others who lack, our resources look different.  And our stewardship of those resources takes a new focus.  We can be blessed by utilizing what we need for ourselves; we can be blessed by utilizing less so there is more for others; and we can be blessed by sharing extravagantly with others.  It is our choice, and blessing is the result. 

For spiritual reflection, Paul’s letters to the Corinthians are instructive.  For a look at sustainable futures, Beautiful and Abundant is a great read.  The latter can be ordered through the Bookshelf at www.motherearthnews.com, or you can visit with the author before or after Life Worship. Bryan is a member of our church and is the bass player extraordinaire in the Life music group. Beauty and abundance is provided by God to those who sow abundantly and thoughtfully distribute the blessings received. 

This Sunday Tom is preaching downtown and Mitch will be west.  Their sermon is “Cultivating Fruitfulness: Extravagant Generosity.”  This will be the fifth 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 church this Sunday.  Discover beauty and abundance in your life.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator