Freedom For A Purpose

Life Notes—June 30, 2011

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.  For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Galatians 5:13-14 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a pastor and theologian during Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in Germany.  I am getting to know him through the biography Bonhoeffer, written by Eric Metaxas.  This amazing man became a pacifist in his early adulthood, yet was intimately involved in an unsuccessful plot to murder Hitler, for which he was executed near the end of World War II.  Bonhoeffer understood the Gospel and the freedom it imparts in a deeper and more self-indicting manner than most of us care to imagine. 

Like most good Protestants Bonhoeffer believed we are saved by grace alone; but he further believed those who truly understand the Gospel will express their faith by changing what they do and how they live.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer drew distinct lines between what he called cheap grace and costly grace.  Cheap grace is accepting the gift of salvation by grace, but stopping there.  Costly grace is accepting the gift of salvation AND allowing it to change you from the inside out, following wherever it leads. “Faith without works is not faith at all, but a simple lack of obedience to God.” 

Bonhoeffer used the freedoms at his disposal to act where his faith led, bravely challenging Hitler from insideGermany.  He lived his faith in a dangerous and uncompromising manner, certain in the righteousness of his acts, willing to die in his battle over evil.  This weekend we celebrate the birth of our country, made possible by many people with similar convictions—convictions that led them to risk their reputations, their fortunes and their lives for a purpose greater than themselves. 

In the passage above we, as Christians, are called to freedom ‘not as an opportunity for self-indulgence,’ but in order to become loving servants to others.  The Gospel is a call to action. Attaining salvation is not the end of the journey; it is the beginning.  This Independence Day I need to consider how best to use the freedoms we celebrate.  If we open ourselves to the true Gospel, who knows where it might take us?  Whose lives might be touched?  Who knows in what ways history’s course may be altered? 

This Sunday Tom will be preaching downtown.  His sermon title is “Christian Freedom,” based on Galatians 5:1, 13-26.  Life worship is at 9:40 in Brady Hall.  Traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  The reverend Eduardo Bousson will preach at the west campus.  His sermon is “The Living Paradox,” based on Matthew 11:16-19, 28-30.  Contemporary worship at the west campus is at 9:00 and 11:00. 

Come home to church this Sunday.  Experience the freedom of the Gospel!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

How Majestic

Life Notes—June 23, 2011

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?  Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.  You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet, all sheep and oxen, and also all the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.  O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!  Psalm 8:3-9 

One of the stumbling blocks for me, and I’m sure many of you, is that when I ponder the awesomeness of the God I believe in, I can have difficulty accepting what I believe.  You see, I believe God hears and responds to my prayers, as I believe God hears and responds to the prayers, spoken and unspoken, of everyone.  I believe God has been present within, beside and around me every moment of my life; yet I believe God has been equally present within, beside and around everyone else every moment of their lives.  Although I cannot fathom how, I believe God created the plants and trees and animals and birds that thrive throughout the earth, as well as the moons and stars and galaxies we see in the night sky.  When I see another stunningKansassunset, with flaming fingers of orange and red and pink stretching from the horizon to where I stand, I see God’s signature work across a vast blue canvas.  And I am amazed.  And I am awed.  It is simply majestic. 

So how can such a mighty, omniscient, omnipresent Being know about and care for me (and you)?  I am one of approximately 6 billion people, all God’s creation, alive on earth today.  I am but one of many more who have lived on earth since the dawn of creation.  How is it possible for God to be mindful of all of us, individually? 

I don’t pretend to understand, but Psalm 8 assures us God is not only mindful of us, but God created us only a little lower than God!  Is God so big, yet also capable of showering so much love and attention on every single part of such a vast creation?  Sometimes I imagine soaking up warm sunlight on a long stretch of beach.  If I lie on that beach and hoard as much sun as I possibly can, there is still plenty left for as many other people as can crowd onto the beach with me, and infinitely more to spare.  No, I won’t ever understand how or why God shines on me, at least not this side of the grave.  But I am thankful God knows, loves and attends to me; and no matter how much attention God gives me, there is plenty left for you.  How majestic, indeed! 

This Sunday Tom will be preaching downtown.  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 “A Rock and A Hard Place,” based on Genesis 22:1-14.  Contemporary worship at the west campus is at 9:00 and 11:00. 

Come home to church this Sunday.  Come experience and celebrate the majesty!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Who’s Your Daddy?

Life Notes—June 16, 2011

Sometimes at night, I’d lie awake, longing inside for my father’s embrace;

And sometimes at night I’d wander downstairs, pray he’d returned, but no one was there.

Oh, how I’d cry, a child all alone, waiting for him to come home…

Excerpts from My Father’s Chair by David Meece 

This Sunday is Father’s Day.  Many will celebrate the positive role their fathers have played in their lives—fortunate children who have or had fathers who coached sports, took them camping and sat in the stands and cheered many mediocre performances.  Some fathers continue to pass along the vital wisdom gained through years of experience, observation and introspection.  Many fathers have provided a loving rock for their children to build strong lives upon.  And for this we celebrate. 

Unfortunately, the word “father” brings unspeakable pain to others because of men who gave in to human frailties and were abusive, absent or apathetic.  Many of these wounded souls have understandable difficulty with God being called “Father.”  Many struggle with references that seem to portray God as a man.  After all, we were created male and female in God’s image, so God embodies at least the essence of everything male and female.  Indeed, the Father of the Bible displays the entire spectrum of qualities we consider masculine and feminine. And all people display a unique mix of both sets of traits. Are our expectations for a father too high?  Actually, they may be too low. 

The song lyrics above were written by a man whose father was an abusive alcoholic.  There is a father-shaped hole in many lives and until a father-shaped filling is found, lives are simply not complete.  Of course for some, it’s more of a mother-shaped hole, but abuse, absence and apathy are never of God.  God may be mysterious and unpredictable at times, but never cruel or uninvolved.  There is always a purpose to the pain God allows. My father taught me to ride a bicycle knowing I would fall; but he was there to pick me up, clean my scraps, dry my tears and get me back on the bike.  He knew pain is sometimes essential for growth. Once we fit God into the parent-sized hole in our lives, we begin walking with and working beside God as purposeful children of God.  In thegardenofGethsemane, on the night before he was crucified, Jesus called God “Abba,” sometimes translated as “daddy.”  It is an endearing term for a father we feel very close to.  I believe that is what God wants from us–closeness. The perfect parent who has loved us through every phase of our life is never more than a prayer away. 

This Sunday Mitch’s sermon downtown is “According To Our Likeness,” based on Genesis 1:1-2:4a.  Life worship is at 9:40 in Brady Hall.  Traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Tom‘s sermon at the west campus is “The Prodigal Father,” based on Luke 15:11-24.  Contemporary worship at the west campus is at 9:00 and 11:00. 

Come home to church this Sunday.  Now, who’s your daddy?

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

One in the Spirit

Life Notes—June 9, 2011

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.  And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”  Acts 2:1-4 

About thirty years ago I was on vacation inFloridawith one of my brothers.  It was early on a Saturday evening and I was driving a long stretch of highway.  My brother had fallen asleep and I was flipping through radio stations to pass the time.  I landed on a station where a man with a deep, rich voice was telling a story about a small town inMinnesota.  The winding tale kept returning to a man who frequently got hit in the groin.  Whenever that precise hit happened, the man would begin speaking in tongues. 

What does that story have to do with Pentecost?  Probably nothing, but every time I think about  speaking in tongues I am taken back to that Florida highway where I first heard Garrison Keillor give the News From Lake Wobegon.  Let’s face it, many of us have little or no experience with speaking in tongues and it seems, well, weird.  I was at a gathering once where people spoke in tongues as a regular part of their worship and it was, well, weird—at least to me.  Interestingly, it wasn’t enough just to speak in another tongue; an interpretation was also provided so everyone could understand what the Spirit had (apparently) spoken.  Although it sounded like gibberish to me, the speaker would faithfully relay, in English, what had just been said. 

The above passage in Acts tells about a gathering of many people from many different lands who spoke many different languages.  When the Spirit came over them, everyone in the crowd heard what the speakers were saying in the listener’s own native tongue.  The significance was they could all understand what was being said, and they were amazed!  There seems to be a uniting quality to the Holy Spirit that is expressed in this chapter of Acts through speech.  Through the Spirit they were able to overcome language barriers and communicate.  Even though the Holy Spirit is the most difficult of the three persons in the Trinity for me to grasp, I recognize it as a uniting force.  It unites us with Christ.  It unites Christians with each other.  It unites heaven and earth.  Even if we have not been given the gift of tongues, the Spirit has given us the gift of oneness.  And us guys don’t even have to take a painful shot to the—well, you know where… 

This Sunday is Pentecost.  Tom’s sermon is “A Church on Fire,” based on Acts 2:1-8, 12-21.  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 For The Border,” based on Acts 2:1-15.  Contemporary worship at the west campus is at 9:00 and 11:00. 

Come home to church this Sunday.  After all, we are one in the Spirit!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Stairway to Heaven

Life Notes—June 2, 2011

“When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.”  Acts 1:9 

Jesus has been betrayed, crucified, buried and resurrected.  He returned to his disciples in some sort of body/spirit mix for a number of days prior to his ascension into heaven.  In the passage above he is spending his final post-resurrection moments with his disciples, talking about the future and the Holy Spirit.  When he is finished, in the presence of his disciples, he is lifted up to heaven in a cloud.  Talk about dramatic exits. 

The imagery of this passage presents a major dilemma to me.  I do not find it difficult to believe Jesus was capable of being lifted into the sky by a cloud until he was out of the sight of his disciples on the ground.  I believe God is fully capable of any sort of strange occurrence that God finds useful.  My problem is this: when Jesus ascended up into the sky, where did he go?  I’ve watched enough space shuttle lift-offs to know there’s nothing up there but satellites and space debris, at least not for a very long way.  I have difficultly believing heaven is actually “up there” somewhere, as is often referenced.  Heaven is also referred to as being “within,” as if it were somewhere inside our bodies.  I’ve seen enough x-rays and worked around enough cadavers to know there’s nothing heaven-like in there, either.  So, my problem is not in believing Jesus was lifted up; my question is where he was lifted to—outer space?  Saturn?  Another solar system? 

The image I have of the stairway to heaven does not go up; it sort of goes through.  I picture something like an ethereal doorway that opens to another dimension at our death and we are there—which is also here.  Can I prove it?  Of course not; at least not yet.  But if we are to believe God and Jesus and all the saints who have gone before us are nearby, then they cannot be off in outer space, can they?  I believe with certainty they surround us at all times.  It is only the limitations of our earthly existence that prevent our direct awareness of them.  So, when Jesus is said to have ascended on a cloud to heaven, did it really happen as described?  Or was that simply the most logical way the writer of Acts could describe the event?  One day we will know with certainty, when we travel that stairway (or doorway) to heaven.  And if the stairway to heaven is a cloud lifting me into outer space, I will just smile at my error, wave and enjoy the view.  After all, I’m looking forward to heaven, regardless of how I get there… 

Tom’s sermon downtown this Sunday is titled, “He Ascended Into Heaven,” based on Acts 1:1-11.  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 of the Class,” based on Acts 1:12-26.  Contemporary worship at the west campus is at 9:00 and 11:00. 

Come home to church this Sunday.  How you arrive is up to you!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator