Dreaming Large

Life Notes—November 29, 2012 

“For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”  Romans 8:24-25 

This Sunday begins the church’s season of Advent—the four-week preparation for the birth of Christ, the physical manifestation of God into our world.  It is the coming of Emmanuel, or God with us.  Each Sunday in Advent has its own theme and the theme of the first Sunday is Hope.  If we presume that our spiritual preparations for Christmas equate with the gift-buying, candy-making, home decorating, party attending frenzy typically equated with Christmas preparations, we miss the mark entirely. Advent is a time to prepare ourselves, spiritually, for the (re)birth of Christ into our lives.  It involves a tremendous gift, but not one we can buy in any store at any price.  The gift will not be advertised in any newspaper or flyer, nor are there long lines in which to wait to receive it. The gift simply comes to all who earnestly seek it. Yet it is not given to us as much as born into us, to live with and as us for all our days.

And like most gifts, the gift of Christ sometimes loses its luster, its newness, its appeal.  Day to day life enters in and time with the gift of Christ in our lives becomes less of a priority.  And so we drift away to a point where Emmanuel—God with us—becomes something we think about on occasional Sunday mornings, but is far from what was intended—a living presence participating in everything we are and do.  Having Jesus born into our lives is intended to be like growing another limb.  We no longer come to church to be reminded of Christ, we come to church because our constant relationship with Christ draws us toward others in similar relationships with Christ.  Praise is best when shared.  While Christmas is, at its heart, a celebration of the birth of Jesus into our world, Advent is a time to prepare for the birth of Jesus into our lives.  Not a corporate birth into the inclusive life of the human world, but a very personal, very intrusive birth into my life, and into your life, and into each individual life who desires it.

So, as you dream of Christmas this year, dedicate significant time to plan for your relationship with the Holy One.  And, as Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, remember that we are saved in hope—not hope in what we can see, but in what is unseen.  So, don’t be afraid to dream large about this gift.  Dream, and then wait for it with patience and expectancy and hope.

Tom will be preaching downtown this Sunday where Life worship is at 10:00 in Brady Hall and traditional worship is in the sanctuary at 8:30 and 11:00.  Mitch preaches at the west campus where contemporary worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.

Come home to church this Sunday.  Come in hope and truly prepare for the season…

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Say What?

Life Notes—November 22, 2012 

“Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord! Why do you want the day of the Lord? It is darkness, not light; as if someone fled from a lion and was met by a bear; or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall, and was bitten by a snake.”  Amos 5:18-19

One of my brothers and I used to enjoy teasing the youngest son of one of our cousins.  Frankie would display false bravado about his basketball skills until the two of us would take him on—two adult men against a child.  As soon as he turned his attention to the brother with the ball it would go to the other brother.  He simply did not have enough hands and feet to cover the various ways we could attack his porous defense.  “Who’s the star basketball player now?” we would taunt.  You are probably thinking, “That’s not fair!”  And by human standards, you would be right.  As Frankie grew taller and stronger he continued to challenge us to a little “two on one,” but as my brother and I aged, we also grew wiser and avoided a rematch that could ruin our unbeaten record.

Why would Frankie continue to desire a game where the odds were stacked so heavily against him?  The cheery (NOT!) little passage above from the prophet Amos asks the question why we would desire the day of the Lord.  According to Amos, the odds are stacked heavily against us.  That day will bring darkness, not light.  He describes a nightmarish scenario where we flee from a lion only to run into a bear.  Or, in our fleeing, stop to rest against a wall where we are bitten by a snake.  We simply cannot defend against all the threats the day of the Lord will bring.  And why is that?  I suspect it has to do with our sin.  Facing the Lord, who is without sin, will reveal the pervasiveness of our failings and we will be left defenseless—like the young Frankie trying to defend against two grown men. We cannot simply work our way out of the deep hole of our sin, at least not alone. Even so, like Frankie, we desire the encounter in spite of the odds.

Fortunately for us, the Perfect Sinless One came to earth to walk with us and to cover our sin so we need not be fearful of encountering the Lord.  God’s unfailing love for us, manifested in Jesus Christ, bore the weight of our sin, was crucified on the cross and was buried in the tomb.  We no longer need to carry that weight because it has been removed from us in the sight of God.  Next week we journey into Advent, when we prepare to receive Christ into our lives once again.  Through Christ, God has taken our side in this life.  Fortunately for my brother and me, God does not take sides in basketball.

Tom will be preaching downtown this Sunday where Life worship is at 10:00 in Brady Hall and traditional worship is in the sanctuary at 8:30 and 11:00.  His sermon title is “King on a Cross,” based on Luke 23:33-43.  Mitch returns to the west campus where contemporary worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.

Come home to church this Sunday.  Come and be thankful.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Intrusive Love

Life Notes—November 15, 2012 

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.”  John 13:34a

A few weeks ago I was in Washington State and went to a church with my sister and one of my brothers.  The service was small, attended by about 25 people.  The pews were couches and recliners, which made the two hour service much more palatable.  The pastor, who bore a strong resemblance to Santa Claus, knew everyone in his congregation, and they knew him.  But they knew more than each other’s names.  They knew current and past struggles, family challenges, hopes and dreams, and they openly shared their fears and failures in front of their fellow congregants.  The pastor called to each, by name, and addressed their specific issues.  The announcements in this church were not about events happening in their worship community, but about Wes’ arthritis flaring again, and Jodie’s surgical recovery not progressing as hoped, and Esther’s cancer returning, and the birth of Ron and Marsha’s fifth grandchild.  It was way beyond personal. It was downright intrusive, but in a loving and respectful way.

What I remember most about the service was what the pastor said as they entered a time of prayer for those not in attendance that morning.  He said that while it was important to pray for the needs of those we do not know, it is even more important to pray for those we know and love.  Prayers lifted up by those who know and love us are particularly powerful because they are the ones who know the particulars of our situations.  We are better able to visualize the needs and focus our prayers in very direct ways when we have intimate knowledge of and a relationship with the one being prayed for.

In my church, we have a relatively large congregation that gathers for five different worship services in two different locations.  Well over half of the members of our church I would not recognize if I saw them on the street, let alone know anything about their lives or life circumstances.  While I can love them, unknowingly, as fellow members of my church family, I cannot love and pray for them with the specific and intimate types of prayer this small congregation offered to its flock.  This is one reason we are encouraged to join smaller groups—classes, study groups, covenant groups and others—in order to form stronger and more intimate bonds.  But many of our members remain a “worship service only” member of the church.  And with that, they miss out on the knowing and being-known that comes with being an involved partner in a smaller community.

This Sunday is our annual one-church gathering, followed by Thanksgiving dinner.  We will gather as one, large church family at the Douglas County Fairgrounds at 10:00 for worship. Bring a friend and bring an appetite.  Remember, there will be no worship services at either campus this Sunday.

Come home to church this Sunday.  See what a blessing intrusive love can be.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Beyond Politics

Life Notes—November 8, 2012 

“Then he said to them, ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’  When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.” Matthew 22:21b-22

Phew, another election season finally comes to a close!  Many in our country are breathing a sigh of relief that certain disaster has been averted.  Others are wondering how best to plan for the impending doom.  I think most of us are just relieved to finally be free of the so-beyond-annoying political ads, commercials and robo-calls, at least until the next election cycle.  I heard one estimate that the two presidential campaigns, alone, will have spent about $2 billion dollars by this time.  Personally, I wonder in how many different ways that money could have been better spent…

I think it is easy to think of divisive politics being a fairly recent, or a fairly American phenomenon.  But it most certainly is not.  Even in Jesus’ day, politics were rampant and passionate.  Leading up to the passage above Jesus is asked whether people should pay their taxes.  In one of his many brilliant responses he told the questioner to give to the government that which belongs to the government, but to give to God that which belongs to God.  Could he have made any clearer there is a distinct difference between what is of the earth and what is of heaven?  The followers of Jesus expected his kingdom to be an earthly kingdom.  They expected him to rule like a king, to overthrow the government and to exercise power over their enemies as the Romans exercised authority over them.  They were so disappointed when Jesus made clear he would not be ascending to that type of throne, many joined the chorus to have him crucified.  Talk about politically divisive!

Am I implying politics do not matter?  Certainly not!  Political issues and our involvement in them cannot be separated from our obligation to be an integral part of the life and lives around us.  We cannot simply divorce ourselves from the life around us and call ourselves followers of Christ.  All I am saying is that politics is not, nor will it ever be the be-all, end-all we are sometimes led to believe.  Certainly we should pray for our newly-elected or re-elected leaders, and we should render to them that which is their due from loyal citizens.  But we should also remember that God is supreme.  God has always been supreme.  God will always be supreme, no matter which political party is in power.  And for that, along with the absence of political ads, we can be truly thankful!

Tom is preaching at all services this Sunday.  Life worship downtown is at 10:00 AM in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  West campus worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.  He will give the third in the “Beautiful and Abundant” series, titled, “Is it Contagious?”

Come home to church this Sunday.  I am Greg Hildenbrand and I approved this message.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

That’s Not Fair!

Life Notes—November 1, 2012 

“Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous? So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” 

Matthew 20:14-16

When I was a child I always wanted the biggest present under the Christmas tree to be for me (okay, I still do…)  If one of my brothers or sister had a bigger present than me, although I never would have verbalized it, a part of me felt cheated.  As parents, Carrie and I always tried to spend about the same amount for Christmas on each child, as well as to have about the same number of gifts for each.  After all, that’s only fair, isn’t it?

The 20th chapter of Matthew begins with Jesus telling a parable of laborers in a vineyard.  The vineyard owner hires some workers at the beginning of the day, some in the middle and some with only an hour left to work, yet he pays them all the same.  Those who worked all day complained about not getting paid more than those who only worked an hour.  With today’s labor laws, this employer would be facing an unfair labor practices lawsuit.  How unfair is it to pay these workers the same for vastly different amounts of work?  By earthly standards it is very unfair—maybe even discriminatory and abusive.

But Jesus concludes the parable with one of the most confounding lines of his ministry by saying, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”  I think this line clearly reveals something important about the Kingdom of God: human standards do not apply.  Can you imagine awarding a gold medal to the Olympic runner who finishes last?  Or awarding all runners the same prize?  It wouldn’t be fair, at least not by our definition of fairness.

But what of the Kingdom of God?  Perhaps the reward of most value is the salvation that gets us there—salvation we cannot earn no matter how hard we try.  What if that is all that matters?  It wouldn’t matter whether one receives their salvation as a baby or as they draw their last breath.  The ultimate reward is the same, for there is no greater or lesser salvation, and I believe that is the lesson of this parable.  When we try to measure God’s generosity by human standards we are likely to feel cheated.  If we want to unlock the secrets of the Kingdom, we must look beyond our human definitions of fair and unfair, right and wrong, to the broader, more comprehensive perspective of our Creator.

Tom is preaching 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 will preach at the west campus where worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.  Both will give the third in their “Beautiful and Abundant” series, titled, “Is it fair?”

Come home to church this Sunday, where the first get to sit in the last pews…

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator