Unclean Spirits

Life Notes—January 26, 2012

“Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’  But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’  And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.”  Mark 1:23-26

I was a mostly good, agreeable child.  I seldom argued with my parents or siblings.  I kept my room in relative order.  I did what was expected around the house.  I stayed out of trouble at school.  I feel relatively safe in making these statements since neither of my parents can refute them any longer.  However, there were a handful of times I would do something (innocently, of course) that would catch the ire of one or both of my parents and I would hear, “GREGORY LYNN HILDENBRAND!  You come here this instant!”  Extreme anger was signaled by their use of my otherwise-ignored full name.  I would submissively slink my way to the accusing parent, receive my shaming, and then whine under my breath all the way back to my room.  It was as if my parents had identified an unclean spirit in me, and this was their way of casting it out. 

In the scripture above Jesus rebukes an unclean spirit in a man in the synagogue and orders it out.  While the unclean spirit complains, it does obey the authority of Jesus and leaves.  Who is the voice of authority in your life?  My wife, children, friends and co-workers sometimes catch me showing symptoms of an unclean spirit and call me out—sometimes even using my full name.  Sometimes I will be convicted by a scripture passage or sermon.  Heartfelt prayers can set my heart right.  Sometimes I see the suffering of another and remember I have no margin to complain about my lot in life, casting the demon out myself.  Receiving a different perspective is an enlightening and humbling, if not always pleasant experience. 

What are the unclean spirits in your life?  I imagine the man in the temple to have been behaving in a clearly unruly, disruptive, over-the-top manner, perhaps spewing pea soup or some other dramatic trick I remember from The Exorcist.  But what if he was simply being argumentative, or talking over others, or complaining incessantly, or cursing, or being overly selfish or demanding or rude?  I frequently fall prey to all of these unclean spirits and I need them called out.  We need the perspective of others on our behavior.  And we need Jesus to cleanse us of the unclean spirits other simply cannot cast out. 

Tom’s sermon downtown is “Listening For Authority.”  Life worship begins at 10:00 AM in Brady Hall, downtown.  Traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the downtown sanctuary.  Mitch’s sermon at our west campus, where contemporary worship is at 9:00 and 11:00, is “What’s My Motivation for Acting Like a Christian: Gratitude.” 

Come home to church this Sunday.  Don’t make me tell you again…

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

A Divine Change of Heart

Life Notes—January 19, 2012

“Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk.  And he cried out, ‘Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’  And the people of Nineveh believed God, they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth…When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.”  Jonah 3:4-5, 10

I believe God is my rock, the never-changing foundation on which I build my life.  It is because God provides a solid center from which to live that we can weather the storms of life.  It is a constant source of comfort, repeated throughout the Psalms and other books of the Bible, that our God is unchanging and rock-solid.  And I love that about God! 

But the Bible also documents situations where God has a change of heart.  The book of Jonah tells of God’s decision to destroy the city ofNineveh. God sends Jonah to warn the people. Even though Jonah takes a circuitous route (through the belly of a big fish), he eventually goes and proclaims the warning.  And the people ofNinevehactually listened!  They repented and fasted and God’s mind was changed about destroying the city. Ninevehwas doomed, the people turned from their evil ways, God took note and the city was saved. God’s mind was changed. And I love that about God! 

There is a discrepancy between the preceding descriptions of God.  The first describes an unchanging God, one known by the staunchness of a firm, unchanging nature.  The second describes a God open to influence—one that may have a divine change of heart, depending on the circumstance.  The initial description of God is what I need when the everyday goings and comings are turbulent.  The second is the God I need when I have been hurtful and less than faithful and, well, sinful.  The fact is I need both Gods.  And the good new is, they are the same God!  The first without the second is a harsh, cold, unresponsive God.  The second without the first is undependable and flakey.  Together, they are the perfect combination of strength and grace. 

You see, if God is not open to influence through repentance and the turning of hearts, then we are doomed to a life apart from God.  Our prayers fall on deaf ears because nothing we do is going to bring an intervention.  And nothing will save us from our sin—not Old Testament law, not New Testament grace.  Fortunately, our God is vast enough for every situation, and compassionate enough to bend to meet us in our need. 

Tom’s sermon downtown is “Stop & Go Christianity.”  Life worship begins at 10:00 AM in Brady Hall, downtown.  Traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the downtown sanctuary.  Mitch’s sermon at our west campus, where contemporary worship is at 9:00 and 11:00, is “What’s My Motivation for Acting Like a Christian: Gratitude.” 

Come home to church this Sunday.  Which side of God do you need to turn to today?

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Why Now?

Life Notes—January 12, 2012

“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”  Romans 8:28 

It was my birthday and the second day of training for my new job inTopeka.  Carrie and I were expecting our first child in two months and life was good.  But that afternoon Carrie was admitted to the perinatal unit of theKansas Cityhospital where she worked because her blood pressure, normally low, was climbing.  Just after midnight, Grace was delivered by emergency C-section, and both my wife and newborn baby were in intensive care units, critically ill.  The timing could hardly have been worse. Among many questions, two really bothered me—why did this happen and why now? 

On a summer afternoon in 2010 my brother called to say my ever health-conscious mother was in the Emergency Room at her local hospital.  She had fallen and was confused and unable to verbalize what had happened.  It was a crazy time at work, but I quickly finished a few things, grabbed a few others and headed fromTopekatoKansas City; a trip I would willingly make time for nearly every day over the next ten weeks.  Again, two questions nagged me—why did this happen and why now? 

It is a natural inclination to wonder why life takes negative turns, as well as why those negative turns happen when they do.  These are not only unhelpful and often unanswerable questions, they can be detrimental.  When life turns tragic is generally not the time to ask “Why?”  It is the time to ask “What” and “Who,” as in “What should be done now?” and “Who can help with this challenge?”  These questions lead to action and most challenges require some sort of action.  Asking “Why” leads to speculation, which seldom solves problems; in fact, it can magnify the difficulties. One difficulty is faith-related. Asking “Why now?” implies someone, i.e., God or a devil, is purposefully inflicting this difficulty at this time in our lives.  There is plenty of fear naturally inherent in these situations without inflicting additional fear from outside. Being human comes with a certain degree of frailty and risk, which must be accepted along with the wonder and beauty.  And sometimes we are reminded that much of what normally seems important is not so important after all, and our priorities need to be rearranged. Ultimately, we need to roll up our sleeves and work with God to make the best of whatever situation faces us, hopefully with the support of family and friends.  As Christians, we are not promised problem-free lives, only to never have to face our problems alone.  We are also promised in the verse above that God will weave whatever happens into something good—maybe not what we envisioned, but something good. 

Life worship begins at 10:00 AM in Brady Hall, downtown.  Traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the downtown sanctuary.  West campus worship is at 9:00 and 11:00. 

Come home to church this Sunday.  Why not now?

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Worth Dying For

Life Notes—January 5, 2012

“Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”  John 12:22-23

I know this will surprise no one, but I am not a perfect person.  In fact, there are some things about the way I am that I absolutely abhor. I weigh too much. I do not get enough exercise. I eat too much, too often and too many unhealthy foods.  I am not a good listener—I try to finish other’s sentences and, too often, am formulating a response before they have finished speaking.  I am quick to judge, but stubbornly defensive when judgment falls on me.  This is not a complete list of my failings, but you get the picture.  And what do these negative traits have in common?  They are all my fault. The good news is, because they are my responsibility, I can do something about them. They all result from a lack of focus on something of greater importance. 

With the New Year many of us make resolutions.  We visualize and verbalize the differences we want to manifest in our lives, and we commit to making this be the year we lose that weight or we repair that relationship or we become more faithful in our spiritual life.  And, more often than not, we fail—sometimes miserably and quickly. 

I believe the scripture passage above holds one of the keys to my failed attempts at change; and maybe to yours, too.  In order to achieve something new, we must let something else die.  A grain of wheat, in order to grow into what it was designed to become, must first give up its current form—to be laid in the earth and “die,” before it can move to its next stage of growth—a live, proud stock of wheat that will produce many offspring to carry its “wheatiness” into the future.  Likewise, for me to give up interrupting others, I must first give up my obsession to be heard before I’ve given another the opportunity to be heard and understood.  If I am to change my eating habits I must take a longer-term look at what and how much I eat.  Rather than seeking quick gratification I need to first consider how my body will respond to what I am about to feed it.  Part of what has become me must die before something new can take its place. 

I would like to grow into a better version of myself in 2012, but I cannot be recreated if I stubbornly hold to the way I am today. And neither can a grain of wheat.  And neither can you.  True, we are loved the way we are, but we are also called to ever greater states of being.  May this be the year we let go of the old so the new can flourish! 

Life worship begins at 10:00 AM in Brady Hall, downtown.  Traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the downtown sanctuary.  Contemporary worship at the west campus begins at 9:00 and 11:00.  

Come home to church this Sunday.  What part of you should die in 2012?

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator