In Need of Revival

Life Notes—July 28, 2011

“Will you not revive us again, so that your people may rejoice in you?  Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation.”   Psalm 85:6-7 

It has been too hot and too humid for too long.  These are the dog days of summer.  My phone’s dictionary defines them as “a sultry period of summer marked by lethargy.”  That describes the past weeks inKansasand much of the nation—sultry and lethargic.  I find myself dragging my feet from one air conditioned space to another, hoping in vain for a cool breeze between.  This weather wears on me mentally and physically.  I cannot sleep enough.  I cannot get motivated.  It is hot, even for early morning walks. 

I have been traveling for much of July.  Two weeks ago I spent five days with 18 youth and five adults from our church at Youth 2011, a gathering of 3700 United Methodist Youth from all over the country, held atPurdueUniversity.  And last week I spent four days at the National Worship Leader’s Conference with several thousand other worship leaders.  Between those two events I attended 14 awe-inspiring worship services in a nine day span.  I heard some of the best worship leaders and songwriter/musicians in the world, along with many dynamic worship speakers.  When I arrived home last Thursday night I was excited, renewed and full of ideas and passion and new songs to bring to worship!  I simply cannot wait to get back into a worship rhythm in the services I am privileged to be a part of.  I have been revived—and I really needed it! 

Clearly, the sluggishness of these summer days had spread from my physical to my spiritual life.  My dictionary says revival is a “restoration to life, vigor and strength,” and that’s exactly how I feel!  I am spiritually alive, in spite of the heat.  My yard may be brown and barren and the air may burn when I breathe, but I feel rejuvinated! 

I know many of us wait out these long days of summer, hoping for an early fall.  But we still have August to endure.  Are you in need of revival?  Certainly the cooler weather and cleansing rains of autumn will bring physical revival, but what about our spirits?  Spiritual revival is available any time of the year.  I was just reminded of that and invite you to experience revival, too.  Right in the middle of a brutal summer.  AtFirstChurchor wherever you are.  Regardless of your current situation.  Open your heart and mind to God in prayer, in song, in praise and in joy!  God waits expectantly to welcome us back.  Let our spiritual revival lead us out of the doldrums of summer. 

This Sunday Mitch will be preaching downtown.  His sermon title is “And In This Corner,” based on Genesis 32:22-31.  Life worship is at 9:40 in Brady Hall.  Traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary. Reverend Jerry Vaughn will preach at the west campus, where contemporary worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.  

Come home to church this Sunday.  Are you in need of revival?

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Where Are You?

Life Notes—July 21, 2011

They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.  But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?”   Genesis 3:8-9

God created the earth and the universe from formless nothingness.  God created Adam and Eve to shepherd over life on the newly shaped earth.  The serpent came into the Garden, tempting Adam and Eve with the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and they ate.  Having so eaten, the writer of Genesis says, “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves (Genesis 3:7).”  And they tried to hide from God. 

Could the Lord God really have not known where Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden?  It likely wasn’t God who didn’t know; but Adam and Eve.  They were hiding from God because they were embarrassed and ashamed, thinking if they could postpone an encounter with God they might find a way to cover their sin.  It is very human, having done something we know we shouldn’t, to try to cover the evidence. 

What would I say if God asked, “Where are you?”  Honestly, I am hiding behind my busy-ness.  I have a large yard to care for, painting to be done, kids activities, church commitments, obligations at work and a to-do list that goes on and on and on.  Never mind trying to find regular time to exercise or relax or (gasp!) pray or read the Bible or spend focused time with God.  Besides, it is nearly impossible to come into the presence of God without facing up to my shortcomings.  Not because God seeks to condemn me, but because being in the presence of the most holy, most awesome God—the very act of acknowledging someone so great and so powerful is bound to make us feel insignificant, vulnerable and unworthy.  It is easier to mow the grass. Yet, God relentlessly seeks us. And when we respond God wraps gentle arms around us so we know we are loved and valued beyond measure. Humbling ourselves, confessing our mistakes to our maker, difficult though it may be, is ultimately a healing and freeing experience. 

So, where are you?  Where is your relationship with your maker?  When was the last time you had a one-on-one with God?  When was the last time you sat in silence, listening for what God has to share with you?  For me, it’s been too long… 

This Sunday the Reverend Bob Shelton 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 will preach at the west campus, where contemporary worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.  His sermon title is “It Runs In The Family,” based on Genesis 29:15-28. 

Come home to church this Sunday.  God is seeking.  Where are you?

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Hide and Seek

Life Notes—July 14, 2011

“O Lord, you have searched me and known me.  You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.  You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.  Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.  You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.  Where can I go from your Spirit?  Or where can I flee from your presence?”   Psalm 139:1-7 

Many times when I am about to do something I know I shouldn’t, I try to make sure no one sees me.  If I sneak a few cookies, I’ll check that my wife is not around.   If I let something off-color slip from my lips, I make sure my children are out of earshot.  If I am going to cut corners at work I strive to do so in ways no one is likely to notice.  I am a sneaky sinner.  When it’s just me who sees, my shortcomings seem less, well, short.  And my image of myself as a health-conscious, well-spoken, faithful employee is preserved.  

Psalm 139, like so many of the Psalms, is incredibly comforting during difficult times.  Knowing God is aware of my every move and every thought and that I simply cannot get away from God’s presence is valuable knowledge when I feel alone and troubled.  But when life is sailing along smoothly, sometimes I want a little private time to let my guard down and be bad.  Oh, nothing that major; I just want to cram a few too many sweets into my body.  Sometimes, with certain people, I just want to say something to or about them that I don’t really believe.  And sometimes, at work, I just want to pronounce a project finished without the extra work to finish things few others will notice. Does that make me a bad person? A bad Christian?  No, I think it just shows how human I am. 

Of course, if we cannot lose God’s presence in times of need, it naturally follows that we cannot shake God’s awareness during times we’d like that Holy Presence to look away, if only for a moment.  Yet, God’s constant presence with us should be a source of strength to help us do right, not a source of guilt.  Having an ongoing conversation with God about our thoughts, words and actions is like confessing to my wife the Oreos are gone because of me—she already knows, and she loves me anyway.  That God already knows the words we are about to speak is not the point.  It is healthy and good to admit and confess our shortcomings.  And the God who is always nearer than our next breath loves us still, and our awareness of that divine relationship is strengthened. Even though all may not be right with the world, we know we never face an imperfect world alone. 

This Sunday Mitch will be preaching downtown.  His sermon is “An Unobstructed View,” based on Genesis 28:10-22.  Life worship is at 9:40 in Brady Hall.  Traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Dave Peterson will preach at the west campus, where contemporary worship is at 9:00 and 11:00. 

Come home to church this Sunday.  Hiding from God?  Maybe it’s time to seek.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Of Flesh and Spirit

Life Notes—July 7, 2011

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.  To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.  For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God…”  Romans 8:5-7a

One of my perpetual “issues” with the writings of the apostle Paul has been the sharp division he draws between flesh and spirit, right and wrong, godly and ungodly.  I know such clear-cut distinctions can be helpful and are welcomed by many within the Christian family, but in my experience life is often not that, well, simple.  Where one person sees black or white, I may see gray.  When someone asks me if it’s wrong to steal, I say “Of course it’s wrong to steal!”  Then they ask, “What if your children are starving and you do not have the means to purchase food, is it wrong to take food for your children without permission or payment?”  Some will still say it is always wrong to steal.  After all, that is one of the Ten Commandments.  But I would say, “Hmmm, maybe there are varying degrees of wrongness…” 

So, it should be little wonder that I wrestle with Paul when he says the mind set on the flesh is death and is hostile to God.  While I understand he is illustrating his point by drawing such a sharp distinction between flesh and spirit, I have difficulty when he makes it sound like flesh is somehow inherently evil. God created us in the flesh, so it cannot be completely ungodly.  We are Spirit-creatures having a physical experience.  Our earthly bodies will die and remain on earth, but the Spirit-portion will live on, along with whatever has imprinted onto our individual souls from this bodily manifestation.  Focusing our attention on only part of our total being cannot be a healthy focus. 

I believe Paul is simply reminding us of the importance of our thoughts in seeing beyond the obvious.  God created our minds to think and ponder and focus our energies. We give life to that which we give attention.  If we focus on the spirit and exclude the flesh, we starve and die.  If we focus on the flesh and exclude the spirit we fall prey to a number of equally unhealthy circumstances including strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, envy, drunkenness and the like (see Galatians 5).  So, what we really need is a healthy mental balance between focus on the flesh, or the here and now, and focus on the spirit, or focus on the here and hereafter.  Somehow, in the ‘grey’ matter of my mind, I think Paul and I would agree on that point. 

This Sunday Tom will be preaching downtown.  His sermon will be based on Romans 8:1-11.  Life worship is at 9:40 in Brady Hall.  Traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Mitch’s west campus sermon is “Good Brothers and Bad Brothers,” based on Genesis 25:19-34.  Contemporary worship at the west campus is at 9:00 and 11:00. 

Come home to church this Sunday.  Come in the flesh and feed your spirit!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator