Giving Sight to the Blind

Life Notes—February 28, 2013 

“The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’”  Matthew 13:13

As my mother aged she developed a blind spot in her field of vision.  It wasn’t a particularly large spot, but if there was an object in that spot, she could not see it.  She learned to compensate for it, knowing it was there, by scanning her field of view more carefully and turning her head for a double-check.  It is amazing how something so obvious for some of us can be invisible to someone else.  And yet, science tells us the human eye can only actually see a small fraction of the light spectrum, so all of us are blind to more than we can possibly imagine—much of which is right before us!

Jesus commented frequently on our blindness.  He restored physical sight to many who were blind, but many of his comments, as above, had nothing to do with physical blindness.  Rather, Jesus was referring to a spiritual blindness, or blindness caused by focusing our ‘vision’ in the wrong direction.  Dan Simons and Chris Chabris did research that led to a YouTube hit called The Invisible Gorilla.  Google it, if you haven’t seen it.  Their research shows that we can be blinded to the obvious, when we are not looking for it or when our attention is focused elsewhere.

I believe the blindness Jesus refers to is a type of blindness that prevents us from seeing what was blatantly obvious to him.  There are a number of reasons for such blindness.  One is simply an inability to mentally comprehend what Jesus is saying.  For most of us, nuclear physics is such ‘hidden’ knowledge—we simply do not have the mental inclination to ‘see’ it, no matter how hard we look for it.  But I believe the kingdom of God Jesus tries to help us see is not that sort of inaccessible knowledge.  Rather, our blindness is caused by faulty seeking.  Some of us look outside on a cold winter day and see a desolate, lifeless, dreary and boring landscape.  Others look at the very same scene and see the stage being set for a breathtakingly beautiful spring and summer.  The difference is not in the reality of what is being seen, but in how one looks on the reality and what one is looking for.  When we believe God is at work in and on our world, we find hope for something awesome and beautiful, though unseen.  We can learn to focus our attention on the possible, seeing with the eyes of faith, and scanning our life-horizons for beauty that otherwise exists in our blind spots.

This Sunday is the second Sunday of Lent.  Tom is preaching downtown, where Life worship is at 10:00 in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00.  Mitch preaches at the west campus where worship is at 9:00 and 11:00. The sermon at both campuses is “Give Up the Enemies Within for Lent,” based on Luke 11:37-52.

Come home to church this Sunday.  Jesus can reveal the invisible gorilla before us.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Healing the Sick

Life Notes—February 21, 2013 

“So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”  Mark 11:24

Each of the four Gospels documents many instances of Jesus healing the sick.  It was a primary manifestation of his ministry and drew crowds wherever he went.  We read of the healing of paralysis, leprosy, hemorrhaging, fevers and the like, as well as the eradication of demons—likely what we call mental illnesses today.  Heck, Jesus even raised a number of people from the dead.  From what we read, there was no illness or condition on earth Jesus could not cure.  Knowing his earthly time was limited, Jesus gave power to his disciples to heal the sick and commanded them to do so.  When they had difficulty with certain conditions he called them out for their lack of faith.

Jesus considered these healings faith events, saying, “Your faith has made you well.”  If healing was a primary manifestation of Jesus’ ministry, faith was the conduit through which the healing occurred.  Clearly, there was a connection between a person’s faith and the healing power of Jesus.  Jesus often referred to the unlimited power of faithful prayer, as above: “whatever you ask for in prayer…believe…and it will be yours.”

Sometimes I wonder if our faith has become diluted and divided in unhealthy, unnatural and unpowerful ways.  Our currency reads, “In God We Trust,” but do we?  Most of us have faith in health professionals, and they perform amazing works for the sick through modern medicine.  But there are limits to what they can heal.  So, my question is this: When we reach the healing limits of our medical system, do we have sufficient faith in Christ to heal?  There are religions, today, who shun the medical system in favor of faith healing; and most of us look on them with suspicion, at best. Should we?  Yet, we cannot treat faith as if it had an on-off switch.  It is a dynamic manifestation of our relationship to God through Christ.  A strong and living faith is a process, and I wish I knew how to get from where I am to where that is, quickly and easily. But I do not.  Many of us turn to heart-felt prayer whenever we or others are sick, but is our faith placed in God or in medicine?  Does believing in one reduce the focus of our belief in, and the power of the other?  If you’ve read this far hoping to find an answer, you will be disappointed.  There are many difficult questions we must wrestle with, as Christians, and these are among them.  But one constant remains—our world needs healing.

This Sunday is the second Sunday of Lent.  Tom is preaching downtown, where Life worship is at 10:00 in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00.  Mitch preaches at the west campus where worship is at 9:00 and 11:00. The sermon is “Give Up Harsh, Condemning Judgments for Lent,” based on Matthew 7:1-5

Come home to church this Sunday.  Explore the mysteries of faith with your fellow seekers.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

An Expanded View of Love

Life Notes—February 14, 2013 

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” 

John 13:34

I have heard of organizations with a one sentence policy manual.  It reads something like “Do the right thing.”  At my company, our policy manual requires hundreds of pages to define doing the right thing.  The Old Testament lists 613 laws for the Jewish people to follow in order to be obedient to God.  Thankfully, the New Testament gives us one, “To love one another.”  Simple?  Well, maybe not so much.  Today is Valentine’s Day and not unlike the laws of old, our celebrations have become complicated, expensive and ritualistic—cards, candy, balloons, flowers, jewelry, dinner and the like.  We are told if we really love someone we will do these things for them—at least on this one day of the year.  But is that really our highest expression of love?

Obviously, there are many types and expressions of love.  Romantic love, plutonic love, brotherly love—to name a few.  But Jesus didn’t distinguish different types of love.  Healing, teaching and affirming were Jesus’ primary expressions of love.  Elsewhere in the Gospels Jesus says the greatest commandment is to love God, followed by loving our neighbor as our self.  When asked who qualifies as a neighbor, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), where a traveler comes upon an injured man and pays to have his injuries tended to.   For Jesus, love is about providing what we are able to our neighbors in need.  Like the policy manual above, love is doing the right thing.

In order to do the right thing we must be aware of the condition of those around us.  We must be intentionally conscious of family members, friends, neighbors, even strangers on the street.  An expression of love might be as simple as a card or a phone call to let someone know we’re thinking of and/or praying for them.  Or it might be as all-consuming as dedicating one’s life to digging wells in a third world country.  In between the two extremes are endless expressions of love that will make someone else’s life better.  The key to love is our service to another.  Love requires action, not necessarily emotion. We have all been given specific gifts and talents, and there is a corresponding need for every one of them.  When we offer our gifts to God with open eyes and open hands, God will match them with a need.  However, for those of us with a romantic ‘other,’ cards, flowers or candy are still the safest expressions—at least for today!

This Sunday is the first Sunday of Lent, where the six-week journey to Easter begins.  The youth lead worship downtown, where Life worship is at 10:00 in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00.  Mitch preaches at the west campus where worship is at 9:00 and 11:00. His sermon is “Give Up Something Bad for Lent.”

Come home to church this Sunday.  Perhaps it’s time to reassess how and who we love…

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Life Notes—February 7, 2013 

“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’”  Matthew 6:31

“My life has been filled with calamities, some of which actually happened.”  Mark Twain

I was convinced this was the end.  I was going to die on a predawn flight to Chicago.  The dark sky had a subtle hint of a sunrise I was unlikely to see, and from that streak of pink it was clear our jet was headed down.  Not straight down, but clearly losing altitude at an alarming rate.  A petrified flight attendant buckled herself into a seat across from my co-worker and me so as not to die alone.  The kisses I gave my sleeping wife and children when I left home that morning would likely be my last.  Was my relationship with God sufficient? Would my children remember me as they grew up?  Would my wife find another man with even a fraction of my splendid qualities (J)? 

Clearly, I was choosing to spend my last moments on earth—like so many of my other moments on earth—worrying.  At some point the airplane leveled off and began to climb. After the flight we were told a cabin pressure gauge had failed and the pilot dove below 10,000 feet to prevent the oxygen masks from deploying, which would have created a two hour delay in Chicago, resulting in flight delays for the rest of his shift.  He had not wanted to make an announcement over the intercom, assuming we were all sleeping and wouldn’t notice the little detour towards the ground.

In his book Conscious Capitalism, John Mackey writes, “The most important insight about fear is that it seldom exists in the present moment.  It is almost always about the future, something we are afraid is going to happen.  When we direct our attention fully into the present moment, fear greatly lessens or disappears.”  Apparently, the University of Cincinnati did a study on worry and found that 85% of what we worry about never happens.  And 79% of us handle the 15% of our worries that do manifest much better than we imagined we would.  So what are we worried about?  Unfortunately, we worry about nearly everything, even though nearly everything we worry about does not happen.  We are obsessed with looking forward into the unknown of the future and projecting the worst, instead of living in the present moment and enjoying its blessings.  Of course, some moments contain problems to be addressed, but worry does nothing to help with those.  When we stay in the moment, where we belong, we find our blessings.

Tom will preach downtown where Life worship is at 10:00 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 title is “On the Job,” based on Luke 5:1-11.

Come home to church this Sunday.  What should you wear?  Wear a smile!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator