Life Notes—April 26, 2012

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.  If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”  1 John 1:5-7

My children always slept with a night light.  It was part of their bedtime ritual for us to tuck them in, say prayers and turn on their night light before turning out their room lights.  It made them feel secure at night, knowing if they were to wake up they could see the familiar surroundings of their rooms.  We also had a night light in the bathroom, so if they had to go during the night they would not walk in darkness.

I was 16 when I first flew on a commercial airline. It was a rainy, dreary day when we left Kansas City and I was amazed when we flew out of the clouds and the sun was shining brightly.  My spirits lifted as the gloom was replaced with light.  It is amazing what a little light can do—a flashlight on a camping trip, headlights on a dark road, a full moon on a cloudless night. It may go without saying, but light is the remedy for darkness.

What is it about darkness that creates fear?  I think it is the unknown.  Even places familiar to us in the light can become fearful places in the dark.  It is the result from a medical test we wait anxiously to receive.  It is the anxious wait for a grade on the final exam.  It is the amount due in taxes on the yet-to-be-received tax forms from an accountant.  The unknown makes us uneasy.  We imagine the worst.  We know the shadow in front of us is just the couch, but is there something on it?  Is something hiding behind it?  Is there someone behind me?  We imagine the worst when we do not know.

The Bible tells us God is light—an amazing analogy and a literal truth.  Light cures darkness. Knowing overcomes the unknown. Shedding light on anything provides knowledge.  Knowledge makes it unnecessary to continue to imagine the worst.  Shining light in our darkness is what God does.  We may not be able to see what lies ahead of us, but with God we know we need not be fearful.  God lights our way and, following in that light, we are never left in the dark.

Tom’s sermon downtown is “We Believe in the Forgiveness of Sins,” based on 1 John 1:5-2:1a.  Life worship begins at 10:00 AM in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Mitch preaches at the west campus where worship at 9:00 and 11:00.  His sermon title is “Hunger is not a game: Our World,” and is based on Matthew 25:32-40.

Come home to church this Sunday.  Reacquaint yourself with the Light!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Not As The World Gives

Life Notes—April 19, 2012

“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”  John 14:27 

We live in a competitive society.  We are capable of finding countless ways to separate ourselves from others.  We are male or female; black or brown or red or white; Democrat or Republican; rich or poor; old or young; or…well, you get the idea.  I played in bands as a teenager and we used to scrutinize other bands and seek out things they did poorly.  I work for a company today that compares itself to other companies and measures its worth, at least in part, by how much better we are than others.  It is true in our schools, our families, our circle of friends—even our churches.  In order to build ourselves up, sometimes it seems we must tear someone else down.  That is simply the way of this world, at least according to some. 

Jesus distinguished between realities, but not in a competitive way.  In the passage above he says, “I do not give to you as the world gives.”  Jesus distinguishes between his world and ours.  It is confusing because both worlds appear the same.  The sun rises and sets in both worlds.  The rains fall and the flowers bloom in both worlds.  People are born and people die in both worlds.  The difference is not found in the physical characteristics of the worlds, but in the Spirit’s application to the physical realities.  In the verse prior to the one above, Jesus says, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit…will teach you everything…”  The difference between the worlds is the presence of the Holy Spirit and the applied knowledge the Spirit brings.  As we learn to turn to the Spirit for wisdom and guidance and perspective our world changes.  But not physically, as some expect.  Rather, our experience changes.  It still rains when we wish it wouldn’t.  People still get sick.  Loved ones die.  But as the knowledge of the Spirit is applied to the world, negative experiences are seen as less-than-pleasant phases in an amazingly beautiful journey. Coloradois a beautiful state, but certain necessary aspects of the journey from easternKansascan be less than thrilling. 

We all desire to be a part of something greater than ourselves, so we seek groups to identify with and belong to.  But it doesn’t have to be at the expense of others.  We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord.  Jesus invites us into his world, joining with our Christian brothers and sisters in a love “our world” cannot comprehend. 

Tom’s sermon downtown is “We Believe in the Holy Spirit,” based on John 14:15-18, 25-27.  Life worship begins at 10:00 AM in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Mitch preaches at the west campus where worship at 9:00 and 11:00.  His sermon title is “Hunger is not a game: Our Community,” and is based on Isaiah 58:6-10. 

Come home to church this Sunday.  All are one at the foot of the cross.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Doubting Christians

Life Notes—April 12, 2012

“But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’”  John 20:25b

Many of us feel guilty for our doubts.  “Have a little faith,” we’re told.  But still we worry.  When my children were younger, they would say, “Trust me, daddy, I know what I am doing.”  Either I had little faith and doubted they actually knew what they were doing, or I had faith that they did not know what they were doing.  Either way I doubted and felt it my place to keep a watchful eye on them. 

Jesus told his followers if they had faith the size of a mustard seed they could move mountains.  Given the size of a mustard seed that probably wasn’t a compliment.  So we know faith, properly exercised, can be a powerful force. Most of us have a lot of faith in some things, like the sun rising in the east.  And most of us have very little faith in other things, like winning big in the lottery.  It is in the area between the extremes where our faith differences become more pronounced.  I saw a sign in a store once that read, “In God we trust, all others pay cash.”  I remember former President Reagan saying, with regard to relations with theSoviet Union, “Trust, but verify.”  Surely, there are times that doubting is perfectly appropriate.  In fact, it is often our doubts that inform and develop our faith.  If we do not question what we are told, how are we to learn?  For me, memorization is a poor teacher.  I learn much better from wrestling with something. 

Some religions teach trusting God entirely for healing, shunning the health system altogether.  Others believe God blesses us with knowledgeable and competent healthcare workers who should be utilized in times of need.  God works through physicians and nurses and other professionals and to not access those resources is akin to ignoring any other vital resource God provides for our needs.  Who is exercising greater faith?  Perhaps it is not so much a question of faith as a question of degree.  How much do we trust God to work through others, as opposed to how much do we trust God to act alone? 

I do not believe having reasonable doubts conflicts with Christianity.  In fact, I believe it is very Christian to doubt and search for answers.  In the passage above, one of Jesus’ original, personally-selected disciples refused to believe Christ had risen from the grave until he could feel the marks of the nails on Jesus’ body.  Thomas needed tangible proof.  And sometimes we do, too.  I think God understands.  Sometimes, it is the search for answers that draws us closest to God. 

Tom’s sermon downtown is “We Believe in Jesus Christ,” based on John 20:19-31.  Life worship begins at 10:00 AM in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Mitch preaches at the west campus where worship at 9:00 and 11:00. 

Come home to church this Sunday.  Bring your doubts to the altar of Christ.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Rise Up!

Life Notes—April 5, 2012

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here, but has risen.”   Luke 24:5b

The church I grew up in served communion every Sunday.  There was barely a sip of grape juice in tiny glasses held secure in silver serving trays.  The blood of Christ spilled for me.  On silver serving plates was the bread.  The body of Christ broken for my sins.  What passed for bread in that church was unlike anything I had ever called bread.  It was tiny, flat, rectangular objects that resembled medicine more than bread.  I remember thinking if that was the body of Christ, he was not very healthy.  Years later, I learned those pasty, life-less morsels were unleavened bread—bread with nothing to make it rise. 

Leaven, in a literal sense, is “a means of lifting, something that raises.” Yeast is added to bread to make it rise so it will be fluffy and soft and delicious.  Yeast is actually alive—a conglomeration of microorganisms that cause fermentation in the bread dough.  (That grape juice probably could’ve used a little fermenting, too…)  The use of unleavened bread finds its significance many times throughout the bible, but one time was when the Jews were fleeingEgypt.  They had to leave so quickly there was no time to let the bread rise.  The unleavened bread reminds us of our Jewish ancestors’ flight to freedom. 

It is fascinating to me that the addition of a living substance, leaven, to an otherwise bland substance like bread dough, causes a transformation to occur that makes the bread much more desirable—full of life and beauty and taste.  And the same thing happens in us.  When we add a living substance to our lives—the Holy Spirit—we are reborn into new creatures, full of life and beauty and taste!  We rise up from our drab former selves and live richer, fuller lives. 

And that’s not all that is rising.  Did you know when we are asked to “Rise” in church, it not only is an instruction to physically stand, but also an invitation to lift our spirits high?  We stand up to symbolize being raised up, spiritually.  (Of course, it also helps keep us awake through the sermon…)  I am pleased to be a United Methodist where I am among those who celebrate good food, including bread that has been raised!  We are never hesitant to raise a hearty cup and plate in fellowship and praise.  With Christ, our risen and living Savior, we rise to richer, fuller lives in service to God, and to our brothers and sisters on earth. Christ has risen, and we can, too! 

This Sunday is Easter.  Many of our service times change for Easter.  Tom will preach downtown where Life worship begins early at 9:30 AM in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:00 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Mitch preaches at the west campus where there will be a sunrise service at 7:00 and contemporary worship at 9:00 and 11:00. 

Come home to church this Sunday.  Don’t be unleavened: Rise up and live!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator