Plato’s Cave

Life Notes—February 23, 2012

“I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation, as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints.”  Ephesians 1:17-18

The Allegory of the Cave is found in Book VII of Plato’s work The Republic, dating back a few hundred years before the birth of Christ.  A very rough paraphrase goes like this:  Imagine people living their lives in a cave, chained in such a manner they can neither move nor look around.  All they can see is the cave wall in front of them and the shadows created and animated by the fire behind them.  Others pass between them and the fire with statues of animals and other figures.  To the prisoners of the cave, the shadows of these figures are just as real as their own shadows, for they do not have the wherewithal to distinguish what is real from what is shadow. 

Imagine how limited our knowledge and life-experience would be in Plato’s Cave.  The story may seem far-fetched, but it illustrates Plato’s belief that the world we perceive is but a poor copy, or a shadow of the real world.  Paul expressed a similar sentiment in 1 Corinthians 13, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly…” Just as reality for those in the Cave was limited to shadow, so our understanding of reality today is limited by our senses, intellect and the restrictive nature of human experience. 

If you were one of Plato’s cave-people, imagine how dramatically your “reality” would change if your chains were released and you could actually look around.  You would see the dancing flames of the fire and your fellow cave-people and the persons carrying around the inanimate figures that appeared so real in your world of shadows.  Then, imagine being freed from the cave and able to experience the world outside in all its glorious color and fragrant beauty and melodious song.  We would understand how different actual reality is from what we perceived in our former existence in the cave. 

Yesterday marked the beginning of Lent, a time of reflection and introspection leading up to Easter.  It is a time to ponder our current reality in contrast to Christ and his teachings.  Clearly, our life-experience is only part of a much greater life-experience.  Are there chains you need to shed to expand your experience of reality?  Is there a cave you need to exit?  There is no better time than Lent to begin that journey… 

This Sunday is the first of Lent.  Both Tom (downtown) and Mitch (west) will preach a sermon titled, “Connecting to God,” based on Matthew 4:1-11.  Life worship begins at 10:00 AM in Brady Hall.  Traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  West campus contemporary worship is at 9:00 and 11:00. 

Come home to church this Sunday.  Come out of the shadows into the Light!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Sin and Suffering

Life Notes—February 16, 2012

“Are any among you suffering? They should pray.  Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise.  Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.  The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.  Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.  The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.”  James 5:13-16

The scripture above is clearly about the power of prayer.  It encourages us to pray for ourselves in our suffering, as well as for others in theirs.  Where things murky for me is in the implied relationship between suffering and sin.  Are sin and suffering always related?  Clearly, sometimes they are.  If we treat others poorly, we should expect to be treated poorly in return.  If we mistreat our bodies in various ways such as overeating, smoking, not exercising, etc., we can expect various forms of suffering to result over time.  I can see the link between sin and suffering in those cases. 

But what of illnesses that do not have an apparent sin-related cause?  What about the person diagnosed with lung cancer who has never smoked a day in their life?  What of the person seriously injured in a car accident caused by a drunk driver—is the resultant suffering related to the sin of the sober person?  It is difficult, to say the least, to connect all of our suffering to sin.  And yet, the Bible seems to connect the two in many different references, including in James above. 

Some will say we know much more about the origins of illness today than was known in Jesus’ day.  So it stands to reason that without today’s scientific research on causation that people might have believed at the time that suffering and sin were always related.  But is it possible our vast information base masks spiritual connections that may have been more apparent prior to us becoming so “smart?”  I do not know, but I find the idea intriguing.  My point is NOT that all suffering results from sin.  Rather, we live in a world where sin is present, our own and that of others, making this an imperfect world where tragic, unexplainable events happen with regularity.  And that is where our prayers can be powerful and effective, for ourselves and for others, just as the writer of James tells us.  Regardless of whether or not suffering results from sin, prayer will help. 

Tom’s sermon is titled, “The Power of Prayer,” based on James 5:13-16 this Sunday downtown.  Life worship begins at 10:00 AM in Brady Hall.  Traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Mitch’s sermon at our west campus is titled, “Awe. Shucks, based on Mark 9:2-9.  West campus worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.  It is Youth Sunday at the west campus and our youth will be assisting at both services. 

Come home to church this Sunday.  Experience the power of prayer in worship!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

The Leper and the Church-lady

Life Notes—February 9, 2012

“A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’  Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose.  Be made clean!’  Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.”  Mark 1:40-42

You have probably heard the story of the church-lady who got down on her knees during prayer time, Sunday after Sunday, and prayed to win the Lottery.  She prayed fervently, “O God, my Rock and my Redeemer, if you only let me win the Lottery I promise to devote the rest of my life to feeding the hungry, housing the homeless and caring for the needy.”  Her prayers continued unanswered until one Sunday she heard God whisper, “It would help if you actually bought a ticket…” 

Don’t get me wrong—I would never promote playing the Lottery as a way to serve God.  But sometimes we expect God to do all the work in our lives and act as if we can just sit back and collect the blessings.  I believe God is looking for blessing-creators, not just recipients.  In the scripture above, the leper goes to Jesus, kneels before him and acknowledges two very important points.  First, that Jesus has the power to heal him, recognizing Jesus’ Lordship over his condition.  Second, he acknowledges that Jesus has the free will to heal him.  He recognizes that, for whatever reason, Jesus may choose not to do so.  But Jesus says, “I do choose. Be made clean!”  And the man is made clean. 

One of the confounding mysteries is when, how and under what conditions God chooses to intervene in our lives.  That God does choose to intervene, at least at times, is not in doubt to me.  I have seen and experienced God’s intervention. But what of the times God seems to choose not to intervene?  What is different?  Alas, God only knows… 

A number of years ago I was very sick with what I thought was influenza.  I was feverish and achy and completely miserable.  Carrie took me to the Emergency Room where they diagnosed me with pneumonia, gave me fluids and medicine and sent me home a few hours later feeling like a new person.  If there is a magic formula to receive God’s specific blessing, I do not know what it is.  But I do believe God calls us to participate in our healing, to help shape our blessing and to actively seek that which we most desire for ourselves and others.  Oh, and like the leper and the church-lady, it never hurts to ask… 

Tom will preach a sermon titled, “The Power of Actions,” based on Luke 4:21-30 this Sunday downtown.  Life worship begins at 10:00 AM in Brady Hall.  Traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Mitch preaches at our west campus, where worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.  It is United Methodist Women’s Sunday and UMW members will be assisting at all services. 

Come home to church this Sunday.  How can you help initiate a blessing?

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Holy Irony

Life Notes—February 2, 2012

“For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.  He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.  On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.  Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.”  Psalm 62:5-8

I find it ironic that the times in my life I have most needed God are the very times I have found it most difficult to feel God’s presence.  Like the Psalmist above, I believe God is my rock and my salvation and my fortress.  I believe my deliverance and honor rest on God.  My difficulty is in the fifth verse, “For God alone my soul waits in silence…”  You see, when I am stressed to the max, when life seems to spiral out of control, when I am facing a mountainous difficulty I cannot see beyond, my mind goes wacko.  Random thoughts bounce around between my ears in a dizzying fashion as I seek answers.   I cannot quiet my mind enough to find God to save my soul—literally. 

Contrast that with times of relative centeredness—times when I can sit down and close my eyes and hold onto one thought or blessing, focusing on the nuances and listening for the lessons.  There are times when I can pray intently and feel so close to God it’s as if we are connected on a spiritual ethernet with unlimited bandwidth.  When I can quiet my mind and control my thoughts, I find God easily.  And in that place of peace there is no fear or frenzy.  While certainly aware of suffering around me, there is a sense that all is well, that God is in control and that, in the end, everything will work together for good.  That we cannot see that far into the future does not mean it isn’t so. 

It was during a major crisis in my life a few years ago that the phrase “I’ll be praying for you” took on a new meaning for me.  I have always thought it nice when someone let me know they would be praying for me, petitioning God to help me through whatever difficulty I found myself in.  But in this instance it occurred to me people were not just praying for me, they were praying in my place while I was in too much emotional turmoil to find that center from which I could pray effectively.  Similar to mowing the lawn for someone recovering from surgery or shoveling the sidewalk for someone too physically frail to do it themselves, praying IN PLACE of someone who cannot pray for themselves is a very special type of service.  And one we can all do.  The needs are great—will you pray for someone today? 

Both Mitch and Tom will preach a sermon titled, “The Power of Words,” based on Luke 4:14-21 this Sunday.  Mitch will be downtown where Life worship begins at 10:00 AM in Brady Hall.  Traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the downtown sanctuary.  Tom will be at our west campus, where contemporary worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.  Communion will be served at all services. 

Come home to church this Sunday.  How can your church family pray for you?

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator