(Holy) Ghost Busters

Life Notes—May 26, 2011

“I have said these things to you while I am still with you.  But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”  John 14:25-26 

Few things are more difficult for me to grasp than the Holy Ghost, also called the Holy Spirit.  Actually, the Trinity is more baffling, but the Holy Ghost is an inseparable part of that confusion, so I tend to lump that triumvirate into one contiguous mass of puzzlement.  Ghosts and spirits are, by nature, mysterious, so confusion is to be expected.  Fear too, perhaps.  So, who ya gonna call? 

I am not a ghost buster, Holy or not.  But I have pondered the role of the Holy Spirit, as described in scripture, as well as its presence and influence in my life.  Still, my understanding is limited, at best.  A few verses prior to the passage above, Jesus is talking to his disciples about what is going to happen to them after he dies.  He is going away and, for a time, will not be with them; but the Father will send the Holy Ghost, also called the Spirit of truth, to live in those who believe in and continue to follow Jesus.  In his desire to comfort his confused disciples, he may have confounded them further.  I would be more than a little weirded-out if someone I loved deeply and had given my life to told me he was going to die and send a ghost to live with me! 

The Holy Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Ghost—is said to be three persons, or aspects of the same God, who is One.  They are different ways in which God manifests.  In the creation story, God the Father manifests and communes directly with Adam and Eve.  Later, God manifests to Moses and others as a voice through inanimate objects.  With the birth of Jesus, God the Son manifests as a human being.  Since Jesus’ death, God the Holy Spirit manifests within us.  The Holy Spirit is not part of us, per se, but a separate and distinct presence within and available to us.  As we seek guidance or when we pray or when we sit in silence to feel God’s presence, God manifests as spirit—the Holy Spirit.  There are many times in life I have known and felt that distinct and real presence.  It is actually ghost-like: surreal, ethereal—comforting when I’m centered, unnerving when I’m not.  It can send chills up my spine. When I’m quiet enough to listen and learn, it teaches, comforts and reassures.  Just as Jesus said it would do.  The Holy Ghost is how God manifests to us in our time, nearer than the air we breathe.  It is how we know God as a real and living presence with us.  And that is a ghost I can live with! 

Tom’s sermon downtown this Sunday is titled, “Troubled and Afraid Hearts,” based on John 14:15-27.  Life worship is at 9:40 in Brady Hall.  Traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Mitch’s sermon at the west campus is “Head in the Clouds,” based on Acts 1:1-11.  Contemporary worship at the west campus is at 9:00 and 11:00. 

Come home to church this Sunday.  Now, who ya gonna call?

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Non-Answer Answers

Life Notes—May 19, 2011

“Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going.  How can we know the way?’  Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you know me, you will know my Father also.  From now on you do know him and have seen him.’”  John 14:5-7 

Jesus is talking to his disciples shortly before he is to be captured and crucified.  He tells them he is going to his Father’s house, where there are many dwelling places, and he will be preparing a place for them.  He tells them they know the way to this place.  Thomas says, “Wait a minute, Lord, we have no idea where you’re going or how to get there!”  Like the most skillful of politicians Jesus gives an articulate and memorable non-answer (see above), full of the sort of catchy sound-bites that fit well into the evening news. But did Jesus answer the question? 

I daresay the instructors I have learned most from seldom answered my questions directly.  Rather, they answered my questions with other questions, or made probing statements designed to make me explore the question more deeply.  They led me to work the answers out on my own.  Many of these instructors cared less about what answer I reached and more about the process of reaching an answer.  Did I like it?  No; sometimes I just wanted a straight answer.  But looking back, the answers I worked out in this way provided me with more than an answer to a question.  They taught me the life-long learning processes of research, reflection and introspection. Some of my best instructors were masters at the non-answer.  Jesus was the ultimate non-answer answerer. 

Why did Jesus seldom answer simple questions directly?  I suspect the reason was more than to just confound us.  I suspect Jesus, being aware of the material world as well as worlds beyond, knew that earth-based answers seldom contain the entire truth.  Because we are only aware of the material world, and because even that awareness is limited, Jesus gave answers that would be true at many levels of awareness.  When his answers don’t make sense it is because our understanding is limited by our awareness.  We must continually grow and expand our perception.  We must learn to see beyond the horizon our eyes perceive and hear beyond the audible range of our ears.  When Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life,” it is not an answer to a question, but an invitation to a journey.  A journey that begins on earth, but will carry us far beyond. 

Mitch will be preaching downtown this Sunday.  His sermon title is “Suspension of Disbelief,” based on John 14:1-14.  Reverend Dave Peterson will preach at the west campus.  His sermon title is “Believing Without Seeing,” based on the same scripture.  Life worship is at 9:40 in Brady Hall.  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.  Come ponder the non-answers with us!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Suffering for Good

Life Notes—May 12, 2011

“For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly.  If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that?  But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval.”  1 Peter 2:19-20 

All people suffer at some point in their lives.  They fall physically or mentally or emotionally ill, and suffer.  For most of us, suffering occurs off and on throughout our lives.  Those with chronic conditions may be in some sort of pain on a continual basis.  But we all know suffering, even if in varying degrees. 

Those of us who have been believers for some time know that Christians do not suffer less than non-Christians. In fact, particularly in some areas of the world, Christians may actually suffer more.  The difference is that Jesus Christ gave us a vision of life that extends beyond suffering and a perspective that sees purpose in trial.  Laura Story, a worship leader and song-writer, has known more than her share of hardship, yet she writes and sings with such passion and energy one might mistake her for one who has enjoyed a life of relative ease (www.laurastorymusic.com). Laura has a song playing on Christian radio stations now called Blessings.  The lyrics, in part, are:           

What if Your blessings come through raindrops?

What if Your healing comes through tears?

What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near?

What if the trials of this life, are Your mercies in disguise? 

In the first letter of Peter, above, the author notes that unless we suffer for some wrong we have done, our suffering has God’s approval.  Our suffering is evidence of God at work, shaping our lives for good.  Many of us can look back on painful events and see blessings that might not have been otherwise received.  In the months and years after the sudden death of my father when I was a teenager I grew in countless ways; but I also learned to not let my affectionate feelings for those I love go unexpressed.  I learned life can change in an instant, for better or for worse, and that moments are to be cherished.  I learned when life appears hopeless, reason for hope can manifest from unlikely sources.  I learned when our hearts break, God’s heart breaks with ours, so we do not suffer alone.  I learned when my vision forward is so clouded with doubt I can only see one step ahead, that one step will move me far enough forward to see the next step.  While I still prefer to see God’s mercies through joyful events, along with Laura Story, I have known God’s mercies through the trials of my life. 

This Sunday our church will have one service as one family in one location at one time.  We will gather in the downtown sanctuary at 10:00 to praise and worship together.  Tom and Mitch will preach together and their sermon title is “Growing in Faith Together.” 

Come home to church this Sunday.  Find God’s mercy in your trials.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Save My Life!

Life Notes—May 5, 2011

“I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my supplications.  Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live.  The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish.  Then I called on the name of the Lord: ‘O Lord, I pray, save my life!’”  Psalm 116:1-4 

This is my first-hand account of a modern-day miracle.  It was my first encounter with my creator that I could not explain away as something earthly.  I had smoked cigarettes for about 15 years and was desperately addicted.  I tried many ways and many times to quit, but never managed more than a few hours, maybe a day or two, before lighting up again.  I hated the fact that I smoked.  I was imprisoned by a nasty habit and I really, really, really wanted to be free of it. 

One stark, cold evening in February I was alone in my bachelor-pad, sitting in front of the wood stove, smoking, and sort of spontaneously cried out, “Oh God, I want to be free from cigarettes, but I cannot do it on my own.”  I sat quietly for a few minutes and felt a very real presence embrace me.  Something was removed from me, like a filthy sheet of ethereal film the size and shape of my body.  It floated up and was gone.  I knew a couple of things in that moment.  First, I knew I had just been cleansed.  Second, I knew I would never smoke again.  To do so would be an unthinkable insult to the mysterious gift of grace I was given that night.  In spite of still suffering the normal withdrawal symptoms and cravings and dreams of smoking long after my final cigarette, there was no doubt that chapter of my life had closed.  I also knew the power to make it happen did not come from me.  I had called on the Lord for assistance and was granted a miracle. 

I empathize with the sentiment of the Psalmist, “The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish.”  That is exactly how I felt before I was set free on that mysterious night.  The Lord heard my voice and my supplications and answered my prayer.  So what of unanswered prayer?  I wrestle with that question mightily, along with many of you.  If I kept score of my prayer requests that have been granted thus far, God would be losing by a landslide.  Why was I granted this particular prayer request and not others?  I do not know, and I doubt I will know this side of the grave.  But I do know miracles happen.  I do know there is a God who answers prayer, who looks with mercy on our suffering, and who bestows gifts of grace in mysterious and miraculous ways.  And with that knowledge I can look to the future with confidence and faith that my Redeemer lives and will be with me all the days of my life. 

This Sunday Tom is downtown and Mitch will be at the west campus.  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. 

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator