A Spirit of Adoption

Life Notes—May 31, 2012

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.  For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.  When we cry, ‘Abba!  Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God…”  Romans 8:15-16

I did not grow up in the Methodist church, where baptism is performed on infants.  Infant baptism symbolizes God’s claim on our lives; a gift we can never earn but is given freely to us.  When a child reaches adolescence they are given the opportunity to respond to that claim during a Confirmation process, when they can join the church as a full member if they desire.  The church I grew up in christened babies, but did not offer baptism until adolescence or older, when the recipient was old enough make their own decision to be baptized or not.  Receiving the Spirit of God through baptism was a conscious choice in that tradition, made as one was beginning the transition from childhood to adulthood. 

I found the Methodist tradition of baptizing infants curious, at least at first.  But now I love the symbolism of God’s love being poured on us long before we can pretend to have done anything to earn it.  For that unfathomable gift of love and grace is not contingent on what we do.  The various choices we make reflect our response to God’s grace, but do not determine whether or not we receive it.  As children enter the transition to adulthood in the Methodist tradition they make a conscious decision about their response to the gift of God, already given, including whether to join and support the church or not.  But their choice is never whether to receive the gift, for God’s adoption of us is given regardless. 

Just as the Spirit of God descended on Jesus at his baptism in theJordan River, so our baptism symbolizes the Spirit of God descending upon us. As Paul says in his letter to the Romans, we do not receive a spirit of slavery so as to remain the captive of our fears, but a spirit of adoption—adoption into the family of God that not only spans the space of this earth, but all time and eternity.  That adoption makes us children of God and that is the gift, freely given, that we can neither earn nor fully understand.  We are adopted because we are wanted—valued and loved and committed to. Neither a new-born baby nor a full-grown adult can earn that kind of love—all we can do is respond to it.  When we respond in love to our fellow family-members, we live out and demonstrate our kinship with Christ and honor and acknowledge our adoption. 

This Sunday Mitch will be preaching downtown, where Life worship is at 10:00 AM in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00.  His sermon title is “Night Vision,” based on John 3:1-17.  Tom is preaching at the west campus where contemporary worship is at 9:00 and 11:00. 

Come home to church this Sunday.  How have you responded to your adoption?

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

The Spirit of Truth

Life Notes—May 24, 2012

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.  He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.  All that the Father has is mine.  For this reason I said that He will take what is mine and declare it to you.”  John 16:12-15

Have you tried to cram a whole lot of information into your brain in a very short period of time?  One summer I thought it would be a good idea to take a five-hour Chemistry class over the summer and get it out of the way in half the time it would take in a normal semester. It was a nightmare.  Another time I thought I’d try an intersession class.  That is a class taught during Christmas break that covers a semester of material in one week.  That was a disaster.  Both experiences were enticing to me because of the time they would save.  Unfortunately, whatever I learned did not have adequate time to absorb in my overloaded head.  I am not even certain I saved that much time.  Both classes essentially consumed my life for their duration and all I remember from either is the utter and complete exhaustion, mental and physical, at the end. 

Jesus tried to cram a lot of information into the minds of his followers in his final days on earth.  Even so, he hardly scratched the surface of what he desired to share.  In the passage above he says, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”  I know the feeling, and I’ll bet you do, too!  Jesus knew there was too much to know about thekingdomofGodto be learned in a short time.  It must be absorbed over a lifetime, requiring a lifelong companion to teach and shepherd us. 

This Sunday we celebrate Pentecost—the coming of the Holy Spirit into and onto our lives.  The Spirit is the third manifestation of God in our lives.  The first is God the Father.  The second is Jesus the Son.  The Spirit of God is the aspect of God we accept into our lives as Christians, that wise “voice” in our heads that guides and informs us in the truth.  The Holy Spirit is with God, just as Jesus is with God.  They make up the Holy Trinity, three manifestations of the same eternal being.  This is confusing to some, but in my mind it is similar to my manifesting as husband, father, son, friend and co-worker.  Each role is a unique manifestation of the same person—me! The Holy Spirit is our life-long companion and teacher so we can learn at our own pace and in the ways we learn the best.  And God knows some of us are very slow and difficult learners! 

This is Pentecost Sunday and Mitch will be preaching downtown, where Life worship is at 10:00 AM in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00.  His sermon title is “Red means GO!”   Tom is at the west campus where worship is at 9:00 and 11:00. 

Come home to church this Sunday.  Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me (and you)…

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Moving On

Life Notes—May 17, 2012

“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”  2 Corinthians 5:17  

May is a crazy busy month.  It is full of graduations and weddings and various celebrations.  It is a time when we transition fully from the winter months to the summer months.  Flowers are planted, vegetable gardens begin full-scale production and life swings into full gear.  For families there are a host of end-of-the-school-year activities and children and teachers who simply cannot wait for school to end.  Friends and family gather on patios and in backyards.  Swimming pools are cleaned and opened.  It is an active month, to say the least.  The energy levels of May simply cannot be contained as rapid-fire changes abound and the new pushes out the old.

Although it is widely recognized as a month of new beginnings, May is also a time of endings—the danger of late freezes killing tender new plants ends, snow shovels and boots and sleds are packed away for the season.  For graduates, it is the end of an era—the closing of another chapter of life.  We celebrate Memorial Day in May and remember those influential people in our lives that have passed on to the next life.

But just as the passage above from 2 Corinthians extolls, there is a new creation.  Certainly some will say it is the same creation; but it is the same creation made new!  Life is reborn and there is no time like May to recognize and celebrate everything becoming fresh!  It is time to let go of the old and embrace the new.  A couple weeks ago, I whined in Life Notes about my children graduating to adulthood and that I was not ready to embrace that transition.  Well, ready or not, the time is here.  I can welcome it or not, but it will happen regardless.  Changes in the world around us do not depend on our acceptance of them.  But how those changes affect us depends a great deal on how we respond.  Well, I am ready to respond to and rejoice in this new version of my life.

It is May and the days are long and the sun shines brightly and the grass is green and the air is warm and flowers are in bloom and my world is welcoming me to a new-born reality.  Never mind that it looks much like a younger version of the old.  It is still new and fresh and beautiful.  The old familiar views have new clothes.  May is welcoming us to another graduation, into a changing reality, into a new and improved version of the old.

Tom returns to the pulpit downtown, where Life worship is at 10:00 AM in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00.  His sermon is “Chosen to Witness,” based on Acts 1:15-17, 21-26.  Mitch preaches at the west campus where worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.  His sermon is “How Bright Are You,” based on Matthew 5:13-16.

Come home to church this Sunday.  What new realities waiting for your embrace?

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Honoring Our Parents

Life Notes—May 10, 2012

“Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”  Exodus 20:12 

When I was young I thought my parents were awesome.  They were so smart and strong always there when I needed them.  As a teenager I thought my parents were lame.  What little they knew was from another era that bore little relevance to my world.  And they were everywhere I did not want them to be.  As an adult I began to realize their knowledge wasn’t as dated as I once thought.  I also understood their presence around me protected me from much I could not see.  However, I never fully appreciated the incredible challenge of parenting until having children of my own. 

In Exodus we are told to honor our parents “so that (our) days may be long.”  This can be interpreted in at least a couple of different ways.  Long days are what the parents of many teenagers experience—arguments, petty bickering, excessive drama, late nights wondering who, what, where and when.  Cosmic justice occurs when challenging children give birth to children of their own—and the grandparents smile knowingly… 

Another interpretation is that honoring our parents is a vital component for a long and fruitful life.  Honoring the role they played in caring for us from birth to adulthood, standing up for us when no one else would, loving us at our most unlovable.  Our parents are our earthly models for God, so honoring good parenting is also honoring to God.  Both masculine and feminine traits were created from God and both are required for a healthy upbringing.  Unfortunately, not everyone has the benefit of strong mother and father figures and must seek to fill those voids elsewhere. 

This Sunday we celebrate Mother’s Day and those providing the vital feminine influences we so desperately need—the nurturing, the gentle touch, encouragement and unconditional love.  Having lost my mother some 18 months ago I will not be calling or sending a card or taking her to dinner.  But she will be near in my thoughts.  When I remember how she filled a God-ordained role in my life I rejoice in her willing sacrifice.  Her influence will be passed to my children, and to my children’s children.  There is an eternal impact to motherhood, which should come as no surprise since mothers are one of the primary vehicles through which God cares for and blesses us. 

Reverend Dennis Ackerman will preach downtown, where Life worship is 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 is at 9:00 and 11:00.  His sermon is “Agree to Disagree,” based on Matthew 18:14-20. 

Come home to church this Sunday.  Make your mother proud…

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

A Cruel Reality

Life Notes—May 3, 2012

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” Ecclesiastes 3:1

The other day my wife reminded me of a conversation we had 25 years ago.  We were having a premarital discussion about children.  I told her I thought I would be fine if we did not have children.  I had participated heavily in the raising of my sister and brothers and felt I had already experienced parenting.  As has been true so many times in our married life, I was wrong. 

Since the moment I laid eyes on Grace at her birth, when she wrapped her tiny fingers around my little finger, I was hooked!  Then Reid was born and grew, trying to imitate everything I did—I was a goner!  I have loved every phase my children have grown through.  I thank God everyday for this amazing experience of parenting and have wished I could freeze my children in time at every phase and keep them there forever.  Of course, they continued to grow and change and with each new phase I found new things to love and appreciate about fatherhood. 

But a major change is coming and I am not happy about it.  My children are no longer children.  This month Grace will graduate from college and head off to graduate school.  Reid will graduate from high school and head off to college.  And me, I will graduate from “daddy” to I know not what.  Many of you have been through this and feel no sympathy for me.  Others of you have wished with all your heart for the amazing parenting experience I have been given.  Even so, I am feeling terribly sorry for myself. 

As parents it is our job to raise our children to become independent, productive members of society.  We are to shepherd and love and care for them from birth to adulthood.  I believe Carrie and I accomplished both directives.  But I was not prepared for the end to come so quickly.  It feels like a cruel, cosmic joke is being played on me.  While I rejoice mightily in the wonderful young adults Grace and Reid have become, I selfishly mourn the coming loss of their daily presence with me.  As the writer of Ecclesiastes says, “For everything there is a season.”  The past 21 years have been the “daddy” season for me, and what an incredible season it has been.  I cannot envision the season ahead of me, but my faith assures me it will be another amazing chapter of life and love.  But for now, it is a season to whine and mourn because I am not ready to move on. 

Tom’s sermon downtown is “We Believe in Life Everlasting,” based on John 11:17-27.  Life worship is 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 is at 9:00 and 11:00.  His sermon is “Hunger is not a game: Spiritual Hunger,” and is based on John 6:30-40. 

Come home to church this Sunday. The winds of change continue to blow…

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator