Archive for May, 2013

Life Notes—May 30, 2013 

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.  If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.  Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”  1 Corinthians 12:12, 26-27

Imagine yourself as a two-dimensional being.  You can only perceive height and width at any given moment.  Your world examined by an outsider, along with the existence of four of your closest beings, might look something like five circles in a single plane.  Five beings moving up and down and side to side.  That would be your reality.  While your two-dimensional world would have depth, you could not perceive it with your restricted perspective except in time, as the past, present and future.  In other words, you experience your movement backward and forward—depth—as past and future.

We, as three-dimensional beings, clearly see how much of reality these beings miss by only being able to experience depth in time.  With our ability to perceive in three dimensions—height, width and depth—we might see their reality in any given moment more like a cross-section of the fingers of a hand.   And the five, seemingly independent circles in the first illustration, are now seen as sections of five fingers, each a part of the same hand.  A two-dimensional being would be unable to perceive its inseparable connection to its fellow beings because it cannot perceive depth.  It cannot know it is part of a hand, let alone part of a much larger body, a body whose members are all intimately, though invisibly, interconnected.

We perceive our existence in three dimensions and move through time.  Is there another dimension we experience only in time?  If there is, what does it look like?  Or more appropriately, what does our three-dimensional existence look like when viewed from that next dimension?  Would the difference be as striking as the difference in the two illustrations above?  I believe our lives are multi-dimensional, but because of our limited perception the true nature of reality is largely hidden from us, at least until we shed our three-dimensional limitations at our physical death.  Consider one of the most common experiences reported by those having near-death experiences.  That is the experience of seeing one’s entire life flash before them—not as a chronological series of events, but as a whole.  That would seem to be the type of ‘vision’ possible from a higher dimension, where what we now only experience over time can be perceived in its entirety.  I believe Paul’s words to the Corinthians above may be more literal than we know. Perhaps we are not just parts of one body figuratively, but also literally.  We just cannot know it, yet.  But ultimately, we all suffer and are honored together because we are one body.

Rev. Sharon Howell 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 “Blessed are the Peacemakers,” based on Matthew 5:9 and Romans 12:9-18.

Come home to church this Sunday.  Take your place in the body of Christ.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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Life Notes—May 23, 2013 

“Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.  Mark 10:15-16

I recently completed a virtual class on The Fundamentals of Servant Leadership.  Our deceptively wise class facilitator illustrated principles with stories from her life experiences.  One session she relayed an encounter with her late son, who had inherent challenges making independent living difficult.  On one visit, as she was leaving, her son wanted to give her five dollars and a few cans of food.  She knew her son needed both more than she did, but he insisted she accept his gifts.  She reluctantly accepted the money, but not the food.  She told us if she had it to do over she would take both gifts.  Not because she needed them, but because her son had a need to give them to her.  And she regrets not graciously accepting what he desired to give.

Our facilitator used this story to illustrate the relative power aspect in giving and receiving.  The giver, by offering something of value they currently have in their position, is in a relative power position over the recipient.  The receiver, by accepting the gift of another, must first accept the relatively lower power position in order to receive.  This observation hit me hard because I am a reluctant receiver of gifts.  I tell myself I have more than I need, so few people have something I need more than they.  Could it be that I am actually refusing to accept the ‘lower’ position of receiver? If so I miss the point, as well as the blessing. Because giving and receiving isn’t just about ‘things’ needed. It’s also about love. And about power. And about selflessness and selfishness.

To receive Christ’s gift of new life we must first accept the gift, knowing we could never earn it, and prostrate ourselves before our Lord and Savior, willingly accepting a relative power position lower than his.  When we refuse the gifts of others, or when we judge those gifts only in terms of material need, we may miss the essence of the gift.  Often we prefer the gifts we give to be anonymous.  For even to receive an acknowledgment is to receive something in return, thus a reduction in power relative to the other person.  But if we have given a gift and allowed the recipient to give nothing in return, what outlet do they have for returning or even acknowledging the blessing?  Wanting to bless others without being willing to be blessed in return is ultimately a selfish act.

Tom’s sermon downtown is “Boast in Our Suffering?” based on Romans 5:1-11.  Life worship is at 10:00 in Brady Hall, with traditional worship at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Mitch begins a new “Master Peace” sermon series at the west campus, where worship is at 9 and 11. His sermon title is “A Moment’s Peace,” based on Mark 1:32-39.

Come home to church this Sunday.  You may find something to receive…

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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Life Notes—May 16, 2013 

“Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.  Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day is breaking.’  But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go, unless you bless me’…and there he blessed him.”  Genesis 32:24,26,29b

I wrestled in Junior High school and it was hard work!  Of all the sports I participated in throughout my life, nothing was more completely exhausting than wrestling.  I would come home from practice with (seemingly) every part of my mind and body aching.  It is an interesting sport, at least the non-‘professional’ variety, in that success requires more than strength and athletic ability.  It requires learning to utilize leverage; so there is a mental aspect to the sport that is often overlooked.  A smaller and relatively weaker wrestler can defeat a bigger and stronger opponent by wrestling smarter.

The Genesis story above is about Jacob wrestling with God—God in the form of a man.  Jacob and his brother, Esau, were the sons of Abraham, the father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  In the story above, Jacob and God wrestle all night.  As day is breaking God tells Jacob to let him go, but Jacob refuses to quit until he receives a blessing.  At daybreak, Jacob receives his blessing and God departs.  But the blessing did not come cheaply to Jacob. During the wrestling Jacob’s hip was knocked out of joint.  He walked with a limp the rest of his life, the mark of his having wrestled with God.

This story is meaningful to me because I believe those of us wishing to receive a blessing from God must often work for it—wrestle with God, if you will.  And just like the sport of wrestling, our success is dependent as much or more on our determination and persistence than it is on our inherent biblical knowledge.  In fact, I believe to be blessed by the Bible we must wrestle with it, too.  Wrestling with the Bible involves taking a passage or a concept and working it over and over in our mind, and perhaps discussing it with others, possibly studying other similar passages.  Wrestling with God requires prayer—not the two minute variety before falling asleep at night, but a continual prayer that may go on for days or weeks where our communion with God is never completely broken.  It is the kind of prayer than consumes every conscious moment not committed to other daily needs.  It is a haunting, obsessive need to know—an insistent demand to be blessed.  Blessed with knowledge or understanding or comfort.  Blessed by God’s presence in whatever form it manifests.  Evidence we are not alone in our wondering or our wandering or our suffering.  It can be exhausting; and it may leave a mark…

This Sunday is Pentecost Sunday, the birthday of the church. Life worship downtown is at 10:00 in Brady Hall, with traditional worship at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Worship at the west campus is at 9 and 11.

Come home to church this Sunday.  Wrestling practice is held every week…

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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Life Notes—May 9, 2013 

“Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.”  Ephesians 4:29

I was fortunate after finishing graduate school to land a post-graduate administrative fellowship at an area hospital.  My mentor told me on my very first day that working in administration would put me in a “fish bowl.”  He explained that everything I said and did—every word and every expression—would be scrutinized more closely than is done for others.  That sage advice has stuck in my memory, if not always practiced, for many years.  He was exhorting me to “let no evil talk” come out of my mouth, and helping me understand the definition of ‘evil’ is solely in the ear of the listener.

But I have a problem with my mouth—too many words come out of it too often. At times I feel witty and enjoy listening to the spontaneous commentary flowing from my lips. My wife reminds me, with some regularity, I am not nearly as funny as I think I am.  I have a cynical, sarcastic bent and even though most of my cynicism is intended to be in jest, I know the words and observations I find funny can be hurtful when heard by unintended ears.  In addition, I sometimes say things to one person about another that I would not say in the same way to that other person.  Part of me wants to be a comedian and make people laugh, but another part of me wants to be a person of integrity whose word can be trusted.  Mix these various characteristics together and there I am.

The point of the scripture above, though, is not simply to avoid hurtful words.  We should select our words with the intent of building others up and giving “grace to those who hear.”  That can be a pretty tall order for one (like me) who often speaks before thinking.  Further, the line “…as there is need…” implies there should be a need for us to speak before we do so.  In other words, we shouldn’t just speak for our own entertainment.  Ouch!

Clearly, words have power—power to inform, to heal and to hurt.  And in this day of email, texting and tweeting our actual words are often recorded in print for posterity.  It is becoming more difficult to say, “Well, that’s not what I meant,” or to claim a comment was taken out of context or misquoted.  At the very least our words should be tools we use strategically for good and not boomerangs that come back to bonk us.  Sometimes, even the most brilliant and truthful commentary is best left unsaid…

This Sunday is Mother’s Day and Life worship is at 10:00 in Brady Hall, with traditional worship at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Worship at the west campus is at 9 and 11.

Come home to church this Sunday.  Bring your mother to church.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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Life Notes—May 2, 2013 

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.  In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”  John 14:1a,2a,3

My wife and I learned, early on, our son was allergic to most common house pets.  Turns out, he’s allergic to anything with fur.  That limited our pet options to mostly reptiles.  A snake was ruled out, unequivocally, by his mother.  The local pet store recommended a Leopard Gecko as a good choice.  Reid’s gecko, Jimmy, has lived to senior-citizen status for his species.  But I fear Jimmy is very near his earthly end.  He has not left his moss pit, where he takes on moisture, for a couple of weeks.  He ignores the juicy crickets we feed him, when he normally takes great joy in hunting down and eating them.  He is difficult to arouse from his seeming slumber and appears annoyed at attempts to do so.

I went through a similar (in some ways) experience several years ago as my mother was nearing death.  She progressively withdrew from those around her, seemingly drawn to another reality beyond ours.  When we were able to rouse her to our presence it was as if she had awoken from a dream, a dream she was anxious to return to posthaste. Unfortunately, a stroke had made her non-verbal, so she could not tell us what she was experiencing. Although she was physically alive to us and could be made to show her awareness of us, she was far from fully present with us. In her final days, she could not be made to awaken from this mysterious ‘sleep.’ Many years ago, as my grandmother was dying, she told me she had been visiting long-dead children and other long-passed loved ones.  She told of hearing the beautiful voices of angels and of the joyous welcome awaiting her.  Was she delusional?  By earthly standards, probably so.  But for those of us who believe our spirit nature lives on beyond our physical, it seems more likely she was beginning to separate her soul from her body, her body no longer being a viable vessel for her soul.  Just as when we travel from one place to another, there is a space and time in between when we are neither home, nor at our destination, but both are near.

So, it may be time to say farewell to Jimmy, although I suspect he will ignore me, preferring to focus on his destination rather than his current physical location.  I can only speculate about such a destination, but I know it is a place where one day we all will be reunited into our larger and eternal family.  And I pray my transition will be as peaceful.

Mitch sermon title downtown is “Come Over to ____,” based on Acts 16:9-15.  Life worship is at 10:00 in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00.  Tom’s sermon at the west campus is “The Power of a Personal Commitment,” based on Romans 12:1-8. West worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.  Communion will be served at all services.

Come home to church this Sunday.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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