Holy iRony

Life Notes—March 28, 2013 

“For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.  Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.”  Romans 5:15b,18

Irony abounds in our world, in both familiar and commonly-accepted ways.  For example:

*The most bone-chilling cold often occurs in the early spring.

*75° air is warm, but 75° water is cold.

*The cheapest items often become the most expensive over time.

There are many ironic “truths” that have been immortalized as clichés:

*The darkest hour is right before the dawn.

*No pain, no gain.

*There is no such thing as a free lunch.

While we accept the everyday ironies around us, sometimes as Christians we find it difficult to embrace the ironies of our faith.  In various parts of the Bible we are told the last will be first; that to save your life you must lose it; it is the merciful who will receive mercy; that faith the size of a mustard seed will move mountains.  And perhaps the granddaddy of all ironies is that to free us from our slavery to sin, Jesus had to die.  And as proof we have been freed from death in our sin, Jesus was resurrected from the grave.  In Paul’s letters it is written that we inherited a legacy of sin through the disobedience of Adam and Eve—the original sin—which is perpetuated from generation to generation in the flesh.  It is sin that separates us from God.  The animal sacrifices of old were to atone for the limited sins of the faithful, but it would take a sacrifice of divine proportion to atone for the original and inherently sinful nature of all humanity for all time.  It would require a Savior.  Enter Jesus.

So this Easter as we celebrate the crucifixion, death and resurrection of God-made-man, instead of puzzling over the irony of death leading to life, can we simply embrace the miracle and accept God’s gift of new life?   It is not a question of earning God’s amazing grace, because we have not and can not.  We who were once dead in our sin have been freed and, with him, are alive!  He is risen!  We may not know how, but we know…

This Sunday is Easter and the service times for some services are different.  Tom preaches downtown where Life worship will begin at 9:30 in Brady Hall and traditional worship will be at 8:00 and 11:00.  Mitch is preaching at the west campus where worship will be at7:00, 9:00 and 11:00. The sermon is “Wrap Your Arms Around Something Good for Easter,” based on John 21:15-19.

Come home to church this Sunday.  The Holy iRony: in His death, we are made alive…

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Who is My Enemy?

Life Notes—March 21, 2013 

“But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.  Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”  Luke 6:35-36

Think following Christ is easy?  Try this scripture on for size: “…love your enemies, do good…expect nothing in return.”  I have few enemies, although there are a number of people I don’t particularly like.  I engage well with most people and am blessed to call many different people from many different backgrounds and locations my friends.  As I contemplated this scripture, wondering what God might have to say to me about it, an interesting question occurred to me: Who is my enemy?

It seems a simple question that should be easily answered.  But I struggled with it.  Certainly there are many people whose behavior has disappointed me.  There are those who have unfairly taken advantage of me.  In my younger days my heart was broken a few times.  Some have made false accusations against me.  In my business there are competitors who seem to play by inferior rules, giving themselves an unfair advantage over more principled colleagues.  But are any among them my enemy?  None of them are trying to kill me, at least not literally (at least not to my knowledge).

Those who disappoint remind me expectations are sometimes out of line with reality.  Being taken advantage of teaches me how to better deal with others, as well as the true value of what I have to give.  Heartbreaks of the past showed me that love worth experiencing does not come without risk and vulnerability.  Being accused falsely helps uncover the pain of the accuser, for often those in pain tear others down to make themselves feel better.  They don’t need anger in return, but compassion.  Finally, in business, competition drives us to newer and more innovative ways to do what we do.  So, again, who among these is my enemy?  I may not like them, but I learn from them.

Most often, my enemies are imaginary.  My thoughts wander and I play out various scenarios of hurt and cruelty and I imagine various sorts of evil that I rarely, if ever, experience.  My biggest and perhaps only true enemy is very close—it is me.  So loving my enemies—real or perceived—is an important habit to develop.  Maybe living as a Christian isn’t so much harder after all; maybe it’s just living smarter.

This Sunday is Palm Sunday.  Tom returns to preach the downtown services: Life worship at 10:00 in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00.  Mitch is preaching at the west campus where worship is at 9:00 and 11:00. The sermon is “Give Up Pettiness for Lent,” based on Luke 6:32-36.

Come home to church this Sunday.  Bring your best enemy…

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

A Wee Little Man

Life Notes—March 14, 2013 

“He entered Jericho and was passing through it.  A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich.  He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature.”  Luke 19:1-3

Like many of you, I learned about Zacchaeus from the lyrics of the children’s song:

“Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he;

            He climbed up in a sycamore tree, for the Lord he wanted to see…”

The song is a fair representation of the scripture above, which describes him as “short in stature,” as opposed to “wee.”  But we get the picture—he was vertically challenged.  He desperately wanted to get a look at Jesus, but could not because of the large crowd.  So he climbed a tree for a better view.

I cannot help but wonder, as I read the story of Zacchaeus, if physical stature was the only characteristic where he displayed wee-ness.  I picture him not only as physically small, but also small-minded.  Smart, perhaps; but petty and selfish.  Scripture tells us “he was a chief tax collector and was rich.”  Tax collectors, in general, are not described positively in the Gospels, usually being portrayed as thieves, and Zacchaeus was chief among them.  Rich people are also targeted for special Gospel recognition, not of a desirable nature.  Zacchaeus calls up images of the bullied school boy who lags a year or two behind his peers in physical stature and grows up determined to become someone with authority and power over others, as if to satisfy a deep-seated need to gain the respect he was always denied as a child.

The same motivation that drove Zacchaeus to become a tax collector, and then chief tax collector, likely made him to want to see Jesus desperately enough to drive him up a tree.  His smallness made him keep his distance, but his deep-seated longing to see if Jesus lived up to the hype drove him to become visible and vulnerable—likely well out of the comfort zone of such a wee little man.  Jesus recognizes Zacchaeus, calls him out, and invites himself to dinner.  The encounter with Holiness stretches his wee-ness and he becomes as generous as he once was stingy.  Encounters with Holiness do that to us.  They expand our perspective, and we grow in spiritual stature and become large where we were once small. Jesus gives us the opportunity to forgive and heal the hurts of our past, rather than perpetuating them.  We might still be short, but no longer wee.

This Sunday is the fifth Sunday of Lent.  Mitch will preach at all five services.  Life worship is downtown at 10:00 in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00.  West campus worship is at 9:00 and 11:00. The sermon is “Give Up a Bad Habit for Lent,” based on Luke 19:1-10.

Come home to church this Sunday.  Don’t be wee…

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Ears to Hear

Life Notes—March 7, 2013 

“Mortal, you are living in the midst of a rebellious house, who have eyes to see but do not see, who have ears to hear but do not hear…”  Ezekiel 12:2

Most of the time I am not a particularly good listener.  My default mode is to listen only long enough to someone else until I think I have the gist of their point, and then to either finish their thought for them or begin mentally preparing my insightful response.  I hate it when people do that to me, and I am sure you do, too.  And yet, I persist.  It is as if I am so busy I do not have time to allow another person the courtesy to finish verbalizing what is on their mind.  Or that I want to illustrate how brilliant I am.  In the process, I simply show that I am neither smart nor insightful.  I show that I am rude.

There is a physician I work with on occasion who is an amazing listener.  He lets me speak until I have finished before he begins to respond.  When he begins to speak it is often to confirm his understanding of what I have said.  It feels good to know you have been heard and understood.  Of course, this physician has taught me that just because someone hears and understands you does NOT mean they agree with you.  He and I have butted heads on many issues.  But he has always shown me the courtesy to hear me out.

One of the seven habits listed in Stephen Covey’s best-seller The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, is “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  This is such a simple and profound statement, yet so difficult to put into practice, at least for some of us.  But listening is a habit we can and should develop.  Jesus said, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” (Mark 4:23).  A bit of folk wisdom says, “God gave us two ears and one mouth that we might listen more and speak less.”  Even so, my internal dialogue runs non-stop most of the time.  Voices in my head debate and drone on and on about what are often petty and irrelevant thoughts.  Psalm 46:10 tells us to “be still, and know that I am God!”   But if my internal dialogue is always running, how can I possibly hear—let alone understand—what another is teaching me?  The truth is, I cannot.  I have much to learn from God.  I have much to learn from others.  Yet, I will learn nothing until I learn to attentively listen to voices and insights other than my own.  Of course, I worry if I don’t express a thought right away I will forget it; yet my wife and friends assure me much of what comes out of my mouth would have been better left unsaid, anyway!

This Sunday is the fourth 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 Running Away for Lent,” based on Luke 9:10-17.

Come home to church this Sunday.  Listen for the word of God in the voices of others.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator