How God’s Love Prevails

Life Notes—September 29, 2011

“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?  Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin”   Isaiah 58:6-7

I was raised in a church of hypocrites.  The original church building, which was near our neighborhood, burned down and was rebuilt in another section of town.  I did not know most of the kids my age.  They didn’t go to my school and we had very little in common.  Most were better off, financially, than my family.  They were better dressed, lived in nicer homes and their families drove newer cars.  I judged most of the adults of the church harshly, as two-faced types that acted holy and righteous on Sunday mornings, but something less the rest of the week.  As soon as I was old enough to do so without stoking my mother’s ire, I stopped attending and never returned—at least not there. 

Now, many years later, do you know what I remember about that church of hypocrites?  Following the sudden death of my father, which left my mother with four children aged five to fourteen, I remember the members of that church descending on our family like an enveloping cloud.  We were covered with attention, listening ears, helping hands and lots of food.  The following spring, one of the Sunday school classes painted our house. 

Today, I suspect there are young people in my church that judge me as harshly as I judged others in my youth.  I am certain I appear my holiest and most righteous on Sunday mornings, and I know I do things through the week I am not proud of.  Of course, now I don’t judge myself as a hypocrite; I judge myself as an imperfect, fallable, human being.  And today I know God loves me, anyway. 

This week’s sermon is titled, “Why God’s Love Prevails.”  But the theme of this Life Note is “HOW God’s Love Prevails.”  One consistent theme of Reverend Hamilton’s book is that we are God’s hands on this earth and God’s love is spread and God’s work is done primarily through us.  God’s love prevails on earth by working through imperfect people, like you and me, who see a need and respond.  That is HOW God’s love prevailed in the past, how God’s love prevails today, and it is how God’s love will prevail into the future.  The “Why” of God’s love is a mystery, but the “How” is up to us. 

This Sunday will be the last in Tom and Mitch’s four-week sermon series. This sermon series is based on the book Why? by Adam Hamilton. Tom is downtown, where Life worship is at 10:00 in Brady Hall and 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.  We will celebrate World Communion Sunday at all five services. 

Come home to church this Sunday.  Become a part of the ‘How’ of God’s will.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Unanswered Prayer

Life Notes—September 15, 2011

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?  O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.”  Psalm 22:1-2

Through my teen years and into my young adulthood I had one goal in life—to make it “big” in music.  I didn’t know exactly what that meant, but I knew I wanted whatever it was.  I enjoyed traveling, but not too much; so being on the road was be fine, as long as I could choose where to go and how long to be gone.  I enjoyed writing songs, but I didn’t want to have to do a lot of rewriting, as I found that tedious.  I enjoyed recording, but too much time in the studio got on my nerves—seeking perfection was never my “thing.”  I didn’t want to move to one of the cities where most music companies were located—New York, Los Angelesor Nashville, as I really didn’t want to live in a big city.  But with those caveats, I really wanted to make it big in music!  I prayed for my dream to come true.  Today, it is clear to me that was a prayer best left unanswered. 

Following my mother’s stroke last summer I prayed for her complete recovery.  Instead, she steadily declined and passed away ten weeks later.  I prayed hard for the healing of the mental illness of a close relative, but it seemed my prayers fell on deaf ears.  I prayed desperately for the reconciliation of the marriage of friends, but divorce resulted anyway.  I have prayed for the faith to move mountains, but most days I can barely move the soil in the garden without getting a sore back. My list of unanswered prayers is long.  Some unanswered prayers are clearly advantageous to have not been granted.  Others?  Well, I just don’t know. 

What is the difference between answered and unanswered prayer?  What motivates God to answer some prayers and not others?  Honestly, I don’t know.  I believe in the power of prayer, but my experience is that prayer is not always answered, at least not in the way we ask.  But I do know this: when I pray, particularly when I pray earnestly and fervently and with a singular mind, I enter an intimate communion with God, as if I become a participant with God in whatever happens, rather than a victim of it.  In such a communion, I know whatever I experience, I do not experience alone.  The words from Psalm 22 are familiar to us.  They were among the last utterings of Jesus on the cross.  Even he felt abandoned at times, but he still sought communion with God to the end. 

This Sunday will be the second in Tom and Mitch’s four-week sermon series titled, “Why?”  This Sunday’s sermon title is “Why Do My Prayers Go Unanswered?”  This sermon series is based on the book Why, by Adam Hamilton. Tom is downtown, 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. 

Come home to church this Sunday.  Explore the difficult questions with us.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Good vs. Evil; Us vs. Them

Life Notes—September 8, 2011

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.  And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree in the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’”  Genesis 2:15-17

I was between early-morning meetings when I noticed a number of people crowded around a television set, watching smoke and flames shoot from the upper floors of theNorthTowerof theWorldTradeCenter.  It was September 11, 2001 and the video was stunning.  We saw specks falling from the building—people jumping to their deaths.  No one was certain of the cause, but something ugly had happened.  As we watched another plane crashed into theSouthTowerwe knew this was no accident. 

Those piloting the planes into the towers angled them just before impact so the jet fuel and debris field would be spread over many floors, not just one or two floors from a level hit.  Evil.  But some in theMiddle Eastcelebrated this unprecedented attack on the ‘Great Satan.’  What we saw as evil, some saw as good.  Do we need to eat, again, of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?  I will argue, though not today, the knowledge gained by Adam and Eve from this particular tree in the garden was self-awareness, i.e., being aware of themselves as separate, independent beings—apart from God, apart from each other, apart from the rest of humanity.  It was the beginning of the “us vs. them” syndrome that has plagued civilizations since.  Rather than a net knowledge gain, however, it was a partial knowledge loss. Our attention is so focused on how we differ, we no longer see our interconnectedness.  We gain a measure of self-worth by drawing attention to the ways our lives are superior to the lives of ‘them,’ whoever ‘they’ may be.  Christians, Jews and Muslims share an Old Testament heritage and a common ancestor.  Abraham was promised to be father of a great nation; but that nation is deeply divided. 

Don’t get me wrong.  In no way do I make excuses for the horrific events of 9/11, nor for any other slaughter of innocent people, regardless of the perpetrators or their reasoning.  However, as long as we continue to focus on our differences, rather than our common heritage and our common Creator and our common bonds, our interpretation of good and evil and the resultant actions will continue to divide us, often in tragic and violent ways. 

This Sunday will be a service of Remembrance and Hope, remembering the tragic events of September 11, 2001, on its tenth anniversary.  Tom and Mitch will begin a four-week series titled, “Why?”  This Sunday’s sermon title is “Why Do The Innocent Suffer?”  The scripture reference is Genesis 1:26-31; 2:15-17.   Tom is preaching downtown, 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. 

Come home to church this Sunday.  We are one body, whether we recognize it or not…

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Facing Fear

Life Notes—September 1, 2011

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.  We love because he first loved us.”  1 John 4:18-19 

I am allergic to poison ivy.  When I was a child my father and I would go into a wooded area near my grandparents’ home to pick wild grapes.  A few days later I would be covered with areas of itchy bumps. They would morph through several phases over a couple of weeks, then be gone.  My dad used to tell people I was so allergic to poison ivy I could get it just by talking about it.  Unfortunately, I have always been drawn to the wooded, natural areas where this dastardly vine thrives.  The extended yard of our current country home could make us rich, if only there was a market for the stuff. 

During college I worked as a landscaper for a nursery inTopeka.  One day I was clearing an overgrown area for replanting and realized the vine I had in my hand was—you guessed it—poison ivy.  I looked carefully at it and realized it’s actually quite attractive, especially its new growth in the spring and red leaves in the fall.  I planted it in a pot and put it on the deck of my apartment.  We co-existed for several years, my nemesis and me, while I watered and cared for it.  ‘Ivy’ was quite a conversation starter—maybe not the chick-magnet I hoped for, but a conversation starter, none-the-less. 

The passage above says, “Perfect love casts out fear…”  Certainly there is a fear, a dread I have of poison ivy.  The passage goes on to say, “…fear has to do with punishment.”  There is a definite form of punishment from my encounters with the plant.  But once I took the time to know it for what it was—a unique, if annoying part of God’s creation, I found I could appreciate its amazing constitution a little more.  I am not saying I ever learned to ‘love’ poison ivy, but I learned to recognize and respect it.  And those are two important elements of love. I would like to report my co-habitation with the stuff made me less allergic to it, but alas, that has simply not been true. 

How do you deal with what you fear?  What unavoidable unpleasantries manifest with regularity in your life?  I believe when something I fear keeps appearing, God is prompting me to pay special attention.  There is a lesson to be learned.  I may be a slow learner, but once I realize I will continue to suffer until I face what I fear, I am ‘iching’ to deal with the fear face-to-face.  Certainly the fear may not go away, but reaching a mutual understanding and familiarity can help ease anxiety levels. 

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.  Eduardo Bousson, Washburn’s Campus Minister, will be at the west campus where contemporary worship is at 9:00 and 11:00. 

Come home to church this Sunday.  Bring your fears with you…

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator