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Archive for September, 2012

Specifically Vague

Life Notes—September 26, 2012 

“Enter through the narrow gate, for the gate is wide and the road easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it.  For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”  Matthew 7:13-14 

Politicians and writers of horoscopes are masters at it.  Lawyers and doctors, too.  As an employer I practice it on a regular basis.  What is ‘it?’  It is a practice that consistently fools many people.  It is to provide information that sounds specific, but on careful listening is not.  For politicians, a little strategic vagueness helps show that what may have seemed like a promise some time ago was really just a comment now taken out of its proper context.  For lawyers, it allows wiggle room if a court applies a legal principle differently than expected.  For doctors, it allows falling back on the “art” side of the healing arts when the science side fails.

For the intentionally vague among us, words like might and should and perhaps and hopefully are some of our favorites.  Instead of saying, “I will take out the garbage after dinner,” implying immediacy, I am more likely to say, “I may wait to take out the garbage until after dinner.”  Notice this provides several options for me to keep my word, as long as I take the garbage out sometime.  I didn’t specify how long after dinner—it could be days.  We often hear politicians qualifying statements from earlier speeches that sound less than truthful today.  And then making more bold-sounding proclamations that will be equally difficult to tie to specific actions in the future.

Jesus was also vague, although in a very different way.  While much of the deception practiced today is intended to leave options open and to escape accountability, Jesus’ lack of specificity prevents his followers from assuming they have grasped Truth too easily, quickly and definitively.  Jesus taught in parables, rather than in specifics.  He told stories that could be interpreted by one person one way and another person another way, and they could both be equally right.  An accurate understanding of a parable in one phase of life will often give way to a different and deeper understanding in another phase.  The teachings gain their timelessness and brilliance by being specifically vague—specific enough to help us identify a link with our current situation, yet vague enough to be applicable to many different life experiences and challenges. Applicable, that is, as long as we don’t attempt to contain Truth in boxes too small for its intended application.

Tom completes his sermon series on James downtown this Sunday, where Life worship is at 10:00 AM in Brady Hall, traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00.  Mitch completes his series on All Star Animals of the Bible at the west campus, where worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.

Come home to church this Sunday.  Experience vagueness that challenges, not deceives.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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A Harvest of Righteousness

Life Notes—September 20, 2012 

“For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.  But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.  And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.”  James 3:16-18

There is a sign on the bulletin board above my computer screen at work.  It reads:

Before you speak, THINK

                        T          Is it True?

                        H         Is it Helpful?

                        I           Is it Inspiring?

                        N         Is it Necessary?

                        K         Is it Kind?

The intent of the acronym is to remind me to think through my words before they leave my mouth.  Of course, for this to work I must remember to think before I speak, something that continues to challenge me.  But when I do, this formula is helpful in considering what I should say and what is best left unsaid, or at least rephrased.

The writer of James, in the passage above, gives us a helpful and timeless formula.  It is a formula to distinguish wisdom from above from wisdom rooted in envy and selfish ambition.  As humans we have the unique ability to imagine the likely results of our actions prior to actually taking them, not unlike our ability to think through the impact of our words prior to saying them.  We can recognize wisdom from above because it leads to something pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits and is without partiality or hypocrisy.  Such wisdom brings a harvest of righteousness.

If the writer of James was writing today he might have turned his formula into an acronym, making it easier to remember the key points and faster to communicate.  Alas, I made a number of attempts to do so and the best I came up with was: PEGLEG (Pure, pEaceable, Gentle, wiLling to yield, mErcy, Good fruits).  Okay, so maybe not every good formula needs to be reduced to an acronym.  LOL, OMG, maybe in this case it is most instructive to read the words as they were written.  After all, the purpose is to discern wisdom, not to reduce it to its least recognizable form.

Tom continues his sermon series on the book of James downtown this Sunday, where Life worship is at 10:00 AM in Brady Hall, traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00.  Mitch continues his series on All-Star Animals of the Bible at the west campus, where contemporary worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.

Come home to church this Sunday.  What must you sow for a harvest of righteousness?

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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Life Notes—September 13, 2012 

“How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”  James 3:5b-8

 

“Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt them!”  I remember hearing this line with some regularity as a child.  Certainly from my classmates, but I think my parents may have chided me with it on occasion when I complained of something someone said that I felt was unfair and hurtful.  I think, even then, something about the line didn’t seem quite right.  True, words cannot break bones or fatten a lip, but that doesn’t mean they’re not hurtful.  There seemed to be a sense, back then, that as long as a person had not been physically harmed, no harm had really been done.

But that was then.  Now there is a strong focus on words and how they are used and how they can cause hurts that cut very deep, emotionally if not physically.  There are now initiatives to recognize and neutralize bullying.  There is diversity training and political correctness.  Respect for others is held in high regard.  But it is far from a new revelation.  The writer of the book of James, many centuries ago, warned in no uncertain terms of the dangers of an unrestrained tongue.  The tongue is likened to a small fire that sets a great forest ablaze!  I think of how quickly rumors spread and, particularly in today’s information age, how quickly words both true and deceptive can spread to all corners of the globe almost instantaneously.  I remember being falsely accused of various wrongdoings in my personal and professional lives over the years.  It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it stings.  And the sting can last a very long time.

Yes, our words are a powerful weapon.  Like fire they can be used to warm a cold soul or to incinerate an emotional tinderbox.  They are tools for our use and can be used for good or for evil, to build up or to tear down.  And when we are in positions of power, as a parent, an upper classman or a supervisor our words carry even more weight and consequence.  Words may not have the power to break bones like sticks and stones, but they certainly have the power to break a spirit.  In the passage above the writer says, “…but no one can tame the tongue.”  No one, that is, but us; and no tongue but our own.

Tom continues his sermon series on the book of James downtown this Sunday, where Life worship is at 10:00 AM in Brady Hall, traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00.  Mitch continues his series on All-Star Animals of the Bible at the west campus, where contemporary worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.

Come home to church this Sunday.  God’s Word can heal our brokenness.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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Creation Up Close

Life Notes—September 6, 2012 

“For he knows how we were made; he remembers that we are dust.”  Psalm 103:14 

I do not consider myself a hoarder of emails.  My goal in Inbox Maintenance is to read an email and then quickly do something with it: respond, forward, file or delete.  My personal email account has 25 or so items, my work account may be double that.  Obviously, I keep the current items awaiting some sort of action on my part.  I hold onto reminders of bills due or calendar events I may want to reference nearer their date. There are a handful of items I need to spend significant time with, waiting for their time to arrive.   Finally, there is a very small collection of emails I simply cannot bring myself to delete. These are items so precious and so moving that I know I will want to revisit them many times over.  The oldest such item in my Inbox contains this link: http://constantwanderlust.tumblr.com/post/162278233/bauldoff-kseniya-simonova-is

Kseniya Simonova is a young artist from Ukraine.  The link was sent to us in 2009 by a friend who knew we were about to host an exchange student from Ukraine.  In this video, Ms. Simonova creates and recreates a sand animation inspired by the Eastern European experience of World War II.  When you have nine minutes of uninterrupted and quiet time, I encourage you to go to the link and prepare to be deeply moved.  If you’ve seen it already, it may be worth another look.

What this young lady does with sand, a horizontal white board and her fingers is nothing short of an earthly illustration of creation itself.  She molds and shapes and destroys and rebuilds.  Her characters go through pain and joy, tragedy and redemption, defeat and resurrection.  And all the characters and all the buildings and the light and the dark and the many moods and seasons and feelings all rise and fall from the very same grains of sand, shaped and reshaped by the creator’s fingertips. We see the many years and scenes pass by as if a generation has been fast-forwarded on a video player. The human creative process has many manifestions, most of which are either two or three dimensional.  Ms. Siminova’s creation, like that of the Creator of all life, additionally takes us through time, making it other-dimensional. By the way, I am told what she writes in the sand at the very end is, “You are always next to me.”  It is amazing what a talented artist can do with sand and light.  It is awe-inspiring what our divine Creator has done with a little dust…

Tom continues his sermon series on the book of James downtown this Sunday, where Life worship is at 10:00 AM in Brady Hall, traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00.  Mitch continues his series on All-Star Animals of the Bible at the west campus, where contemporary worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.

Come home to church this Sunday.  Come, rejoice in your ‘dustfulness’ with us!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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