Repentance and Grace

Life Notes—August 25, 2011

“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.  For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?  Or what will they give in return for their life?’”  Matthew 16:24-26

My 9th grade English teacher, Mr. McKinney, was an intimidating man.  A typical first impression was of a gruff, demanding, humorless man who hated kids, especially 9th graders.  Everything with Mr. McKinney was either 100% right or 100% wrong.  Each day we had a writing assignment to do on the blackboard, in front of the class.  At the end of each assignment we had to write, “I have checked this.”  We would receive either an “A” for perfect work, or an “F” for a misspelled word, incorrect punctuation or any other grammatical sin that proved we had, in fact, not checked our work.  After the first eleven days of class I had received eleven consecutive F’s.  Before school on the 12th day I trembled in to see Mr. McKinney, confessing that without his help I would flunk 9th grade English.  In that moment, after I humbling myself and admitting my need, he transformed into a kind and caring figure, more like a loving grandfather than the teacher from Hell.  He led me through each failed assignment, coached me through my mistakes, had me sign “I have checked this,” and changed every F to an A.  I had been redeemed! 

In the passage above, Jesus gives his disciples some confounding and very ‘black and white’ instructions as he prepares them for his impending death.  Those who want to follow Jesus must deny themselves.  Those who want to save their life must lose it.  There is no compromise in those lines, just as there was no compromise with Mr. McKinney.  He wanted committed students.  Jesus wants committed followers. 

I confess, I can be a lazy Christian.  I try to follow Christ to a point, but when it becomes too uncomfortable or embarrassing or otherwise unpleasant, I often wimp out.  I skip a comma here or miss a quotation mark there, then affirm “I have checked this” so I can move on with my life.  I feel certain, if Jesus were grading me as I deserve, I would receive mostly F’s.  You see, I cannot measure up to Christ; but that is no excuse to stop trying.  In retrospect, Mr. McKinney taught more than English, he taught repentance and grace.  When we humble ourselves before our God, confessing our shortcomings, our F’s are erased and replaced by A’s.  It is called Grace, and it is a gift. 

Tom is preaching downtown this Sunday, where Life worship is at 10:00 in Brady Hall.  Traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00.  Mitch will be at the west campus where contemporary worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.  His sermon title, based on Exodus 3:1-15, is “What are you waiting for? A Sign from God?” 

Come home to church this Sunday.  Humble pie is best when eaten with others…

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

What is Good?

Life Notes—August 18, 2011

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  Romans 12: 2

The past couple of days have been rough at work.  I chair a committee of about sixty people from across the nation and we have been working through difficult and contentious issues—issues that have divided our professional community into three distinct camps.  The first group believes things are fine and no significant changes are needed.  The second group believes we are headed for big trouble if we do not make significant changes soon.  The third, and largest group, stays mostly divorced from the issues dividing the first two.  This group is either too wrapped up in their day-to-day tasks or they are so put off by the divisive discussions they simply tune out. 

While we are united in our search for what is good for our industry, we are far apart in what we believe will lead to that greatest good.  Yesterday was our monthly conference call and it was just plain ugly.  It is one thing to have testy discussions over issues or positions.  It is quite another when those discussions get personal.  Or when one person makes a false statement and others jump in and build upon that false statement.  Things spiral out of control very quickly.  In my mind I found myself wishing all sorts of ill-will on some of my colleagues.  I, too, was getting personal—just not verbally. 

When I got home I was exhausted and frustrated.  As I tried to calm my mind in preparation for sleep I read the verse above.  It’s a familiar and favorite verse to me, “Don’t be conformed to this world…”  I know I shouldn’t join those who use less-than-honorable tactics to attempt to strengthen their positions. “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind…”  Yes, I knew I needed renewal.  I needed rest and I needed distance between myself and the day.  I prayed for renewal and perspective, “…so you may discern the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” 

When I woke up this morning I was better. Near the end of my two-mile walk I was even able to admit these people I was so mad at are also children of God, just like me; passionate about their profession, just like me; and opinionated, just like me.  Coming to agreement in a large group of people on what is right, or at least what is best, can be a painful process.  But seeking renewal through the transformation of our minds helps keep the process in perspective.  And helps us treat others with love and respect. 

Austin Rivera is preaching downtown this Sunday.  Life worship is at 10:00 in Brady Hall.  Traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00.  TheHondurasmission team will share their experiences at the west campus, where contemporary worship is at 9:00 and 11:00. 

Come home to church this Sunday.  Got renewal?

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Designed for Fabulous

Life Notes—August 11, 2011

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”  Marianne Williamson

I came across a variation of this quote in the movie “Akeelah and the Bee,” on the wall of the testy old spelling coach.  I know very little about Marianne Williamson, except she’s an author and lecturer on the west coast (  I appreciate authors who take common ‘wisdom’ and turn it upside down, shaping it into truth, as she does above.  

She’s right.  We each have a legacy of greatness we can barely imagine. For example:

“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them…” Genesis 1:27a

“…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.”  Psalm 8:4-5

“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.”  1 John 3:1

The Bible is full of stories of everyday, tremendously flawed people (like us) doing marvelous things. Moses. David. Mary. Paul.  Among the heroes of the Bible are tax cheats, adulterers, murderers, criminals and prostitutes. People who might have considered themselves too fat or old or young or busy or dumb or ugly or too out-of-touch to participate in God-work.  What did they have in common?  Exactly what we share in common with them and each other today—being made in the image of God, created a little lower than God, crowned with glory and honor, children of God! 

“Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these…” John 14:12.   Believe it! Live it!  Be it! 

Tom returns to Life worship this Sunday, new knees and all.  He will be hosting a discussion about Life worship immediately following the service.  Life worship is at 9:40 in Brady Hall.  Traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Mitch will be preaching at the west campus where contemporary worship is at 9:00 and 11:00. 

Come home to church this Sunday.  Find your fabulous and go serve the world!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Limping With Jacob

Life Notes—August 4, 2011

“Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.  When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him…The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.”   Genesis 32:24-25,31

The story of Jacob wrestling with an angel of God is told in the 32nd chapter of Genesis.  Jacob is very distraught and alone on this sleepless night and wrestles with this heavenly being.  They wrestle to a draw as the sun comes up and Jacob refuses to let the being go until it blesses him.  In the being’s blessing he changes Jacob’s name toIsrael and says, “…for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.”  Jacob may have prevailed, but the limp he received from his dislocated hip was a scar he carried the rest of his days, a mark of his wrestling with God. 

I have wrestled with God as I’ve watched unrelenting illnesses ravage the bodies of friends and family, and as I’ve seen mental faculties leave aging loved ones.  I wrestled with God at the tragic death of the five-year-old daughter of a co-worker.  When I read of countries at war, starving children, addicted persons and broken homes I wrestle with God over what merits divine intervention. When life doesn’t go the way I feel it should or when I’m faced with a task I really do not want to do, I argue and cajole and plead and pray and cry and scream and kick and, well, I wrestle.  Don’t you?  Most such battles I lose, at least in the sense of not getting my way.  But those battles leave a mark—maybe not a visible or physical mark like Jacob’s limp, but a mark nonetheless.  When we struggle with God, the encounter will change and mark us.  And that’s exactly the point.  God invites us to bring what troubles us to the wrestling mat.  And, as with Jacob, God doesn’t seek to destroy us, only to change us in ways better suited to God’s purposes.  Be warned: no one can enter the presence of the Almighty and not be changed. 

Jacob’s limp probably wasn’t an attractive feature, even in his day.  But it was tangible evidence of his encounter with God.  In wrestling with God he was molded and made over, shaped ever closer to the image of God he mirrored at creation.  When was the last time you wrestled with God?  What mark did it leave?  Most of us have scars from going to the mat with God. So, if you see me limping along some Sunday morning, don’t worry too much.  I’ve probably just been wrestling… 

Reverend Stan Hughes will be preaching downtown this Sunday.  His sermon is “What Does It Take To Open My Eyes?”  His scriptures will be Romans 10:8 and Matthew 14:32-33.  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 “Nothing Ventured,” based on Matthew 14:22-33.  Contemporary worship at the west campus is at 9:00 and 11:00. 

Come home to church this Sunday.  Let’s compare battle scars…

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator