Guiding Vision

Life Notes—August 29, 2013 

  “Where there is no vision, the people perish; but he that keeps the law, happy is he.” 

Proverbs 29:18 (King James 2000 Bible Translation)

Many organizations have a Vision Statement which answers the question, “What do we want to become?”  A good vision statement looks ahead and describes a desirable future.  It establishes an inspiring dream for people to rally around and work to achieve.  Vision statements guide the way forward, like a lamp on a dark path.  They help refocus efforts on what is important, especially when less-important issues distract us.  Many individuals develop a personal vision statement for the very same reasons.  A vision statement reminds us of who we are, whose we are, and what we hope to become.  In the woodlands of life, vision is about the forest so we do not get lost in the trees.

In 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr., established a dynamic vision for society with his “I Have a Dream” speech.  It reads in part:

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’  I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.  I have a dream today.”

The dream of Dr. King was a vision of racial equality and social justice.  It was deeply inspiring at the time and remains so today, over fifty-years later.  It established a grand picture of the future, one we continue to work towards today.

In his essay, Foresight as the Central Ethic of Leadership, Daniel Kim writes, “…without vision, our people suffer death by a thousand paper cuts.”  He describes how those with no vision wander aimlessly to their graves, engaging in activities with no meaning.  He calls them our “walking dead.”  The writer of Proverbs tells us people perish without vision.  Unfortunately, the guiding vision for many is simply to get through the day.  We stumble through our weeks with an eye on the weekend.  Surely, we were not created in the image of God to succumb to such low expectations.

As Christians, we received a vision two thousand years ago from Jesus.  It is to love one another.  Like Dr. King’s Dream speech, the Bible lays out ambitious goals for which to strive.  Those ideals give meaning to our days.  As with all good visions, the Bible and the Dream speech lay an inspiring path before us to travel the rest of our days.  Those types of visions keep us focused on purposes larger than ourselves.

Tom will be preaching 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 is preaching at the west campus where contemporary worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.

Come home to church this Sunday.  Come dream with us.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator


Taking a Pray-cation

Life Notes—August 22, 2013 

  “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others.  Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.”  Matthew 6:5

Many families take an annual vacation.  It is an opportunity to get away from the daily routines of work and home.  Vacations provide time for rest, relaxation, and renewal.  My family tries to take a summer vacation each year, but it is not always easy.  There have been lean years, financially, where the cost of an extended vacation was out of the question.  As our children have grown the larger problem has become matching schedules.  Some years the best we can do is a long weekend together.  Even a long weekend together is better than no vacation at all.

As the costs of travel continue to increase, the idea of a stay-cation has become popular.  When a family stays home, or opts for a short trip near home, they experience a stay-cation.  Among the typical benefits are less cost and easier scheduling.  Done well, a stay-cation brings a measure of the rest, relaxation and renewal a vacation is intended to accomplish.  Upon returning from a well-orchestrated break, we face our daily routines with revitalized energy and enthusiasm.

Of course, vacations can create more stress than they relieve.  Sometimes families spend more money than they should, or the work involved in making the vacation happen is not shared equally. When internal strife builds from too much time, too much togetherness, or too much money, the best part of the vacation is when it ends.

When our underlying need is for a break in our routine, there is another possibility.  It costs nothing.  It is easy to schedule, even with little or no preplanning.  There are no lines and there is no traffic.   It is a pray-cation.  A pray-cation is time with God.  It can occur in the car, at a workstation, while washing dishes, or anytime the need occurs.  It can last a few seconds or extend over days and weeks.  A pray-cation can be taken alone, or with family and friends.  There is no matching of schedules or reservations to make. God is available 24/7.  There will be no comparisons with extended family members or co-workers over the quality of your most recent pray-cation.  It is not a competition.  It is a time of rest, relaxation and renewal.  It is a break from routine.  A pray-cation prepares us to meet life’s challenges with new energy and enthusiasm.

Tom will be preaching 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 is preaching at the west campus where contemporary worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.

Come home to church this Sunday.  Take a pray-cation with us.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Entering the Mystery

Life Notes—August 15, 2013 

But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?’”  God said to Moses, “I am who I am.”  Exodus 3:13-14a

A friend of mine once gave a sermon with this theme: God is not a question to be answered.  It was a powerful message for me, capturing a fundamental concept of truth:  Try as we might, we will never figure out God.  Let me explain.  Figuring God out is not the purpose of scripture or prayer or church or spiritual growth.  The purpose of spiritual practice is to build a connection with the Divine. The Hebrews of the Old Testament were squeamish about naming God, and for good reason. When we name something we limit its nature.  Naming establishes boundaries for what a thing is and is not.  When we say, “This is a maple tree,” we establish it is not an oak.  It is not a house, a car, or a person.  We name because it is useful to categorize and describe what we encounter.  It is also helpful in sharing our experiences with others. However, God is distinctly different.  God, by nature, cannot be limited by a name.  God is limitless. Further, God’s nature transcends language.  Language is a useful tool for communication; but just because we name something a maple tree does not mean we have captured its essence.  This is especially true with God.  We use the name God, but what that name implies is as varied as those who speak it.  No human name can capture the essence of God.

In Exodus 3:1-15, Moses encounters God as a burning bush that is not consumed by the flames.  God promises to deliver the Israelites from their slavery to the Egyptians.  Moses asks who he should say is the giver of this promise and the reply is, “I am who I am.”  The original word has been interpreted in different ways, all of which are vague and mostly uninformative to our need to define and categorize.  A common application of this name is in what I learned as the Doxology: “As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end, Amen.”   The Doxology is a translation of the name God gave Moses to share with his people.  Although Moses asked for God’s name, God refused to become a question for us to answer.  Thus, God is not a being to be named.  I am leery of those who act as though they have God figured out. I believe the Bible confirms in numerous ways that God is beyond our ability to fully understand or name.  I think what is helpful, necessary and possible is a relationship.  Even so, we can never get too comfortable in our familiarity with God.  We do best to keep our minds and hearts open to the possibilities, trusting in God’s love for us. It is a love we may not fully understand, but a love that is reliable.

Tom will be preaching 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 is preaching at the west campus where contemporary worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.

Come home to church this Sunday.  Enter and explore the mystery with us!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

The Second Death

Life Notes—August 8, 2013 

“Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children.  But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”  Revelation 21:7-8

Death is a fearful subject.  We understand we are not immortal, at least not as we experience our lives today.  We like to joke, “The only sure things in life are death and taxes,” although that caustic reality is not particularly funny.  All living things on earth are born, they live and they die.  The nature of each phase of life is as unique as the different forms it takes.  However, every living being dies.  The thought of dying more than once is not appealing—or is it?

The concept of a second death has several manifestations.  The commonly agreed-upon death is the death of the body.  A body dies and its various elements are recycled back into the earth from which they came.  One version of the second death occurs when the last living person with recollection of the deceased passes.  At that point, the deceased has died the second death.  Some people write books or music that will outlive them.  Most of us leave photographs. Some build memorials, like the Egyptian kings and their pyramids.  However, even the pyramids will crumble back to earth, albeit very slowly.  Like the first death, we all will die this second death, too.

Theologically, the first and second deaths are described differently, and the debate begins with a second birth.  In John 3:3, Jesus tells Nicodemus, “…no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”  A number of passages point to the need for a second birth and this is one of them.  The first birth is physical and the second is spiritual.  Being “born again” is a common and differently interpreted concept referring to a new start to life.  At its religious core, being born again acknowledges our need for a Savior.  In order to begin a new life we must allow an old one to die.  In this view, the first death is not our physical death, but the death of a part of our being.  This ‘death’ must precede a spiritual rebirth. Some believe being born again is a one-time event.  It occurs when we ask Jesus to enter our lives and agree to follow him. Others believe being born again is an on-going process. We confess we have strayed, we repent, and we seek a renewal of and recommitment to our relationship with Christ.  Being born again is an on-going process of death and rebirth.

Finally, we also read of a second death in the book of Revelation, as in the passage above.  This death occurs after physical death, and is a death for the unrepentant.  In spite of our views on birth, life and death, we are a part of a larger life-experience that is both physical and spiritual.  The cycle of physical life and death is necessary for the perpetuation of life on earth.  How that cycle manifests spiritually is a mystery.  But the good news is that death is not the end.  Death is a new beginning.

Tom will be preaching 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 is preaching at the west campus where contemporary worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.

Come home to church this Sunday.  It may be time to rebirth your relationship with God.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

The Seven Deadly Sins: Pride

Life Notes—August 1, 2013 

“For the wicked boast of the desires of their heart, those greedy for gain curse and renounce the Lord.  In the pride of their countenance the wicked say, ‘God will not seek it out;’ all their thoughts are, ‘There is no God.’”  Psalm 10:3-4

The last of the Seven Deadly Sins, Pride, is the most uncomfortable for me to contemplate.  In the words of a friend and mentor, “It plows awfully close to the corn.”  Pride is considered the most serious, as well as the source of the other six deadly sins.  Pride can be defined in a number of ways.  The most convicting definition for me is a desire to be more important or attractive than others.  It can also manifest as a refusal to acknowledge the good in others. Somehow we fear such acknowledgement will make us appear less “good.”  Pride is the ultimate form of self-love.  It is an inflated self-love that vaults love for self above even love for God.  Pride can also elevate love of self to such a degree that hate and contempt is felt for others.  I reluctantly confess, I struggle with pride over all else.

As we consider the other deadly sins it is easy to see how they all originate in pride.  Lust, gluttony and greed spring from a prideful self-love.  They transform something we desire into something we believe we deserve.  Sloth is an attitude of laziness.  Whatever we want to do (or not do) for ourselves becomes more important than the other needs around us. Wrath is entitling oneself to let anger to rage out of control.  It shows a lack of self-control and often results in harm to self or others.  Envy convinces us that something of value belonging to another should actually belong to us.  In the Psalm above, pride leads to a belief that there is no God.  We come to believe the universe revolves around us, so if there is a God it must be us.  Proverbs 11:2 says, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but wisdom is with the humble.” 

The good news about pride is that, sooner or later, it leads to disgrace.  And disgrace, when we are willing to learn from it, leads to humility. Humility helps us realize the world does not revolve around us.  It helps us understand that our desires are not more important than the needs of others.  It teaches us that we have much to learn about life and living. Humility helps us listen more and speak less. Pride encourages the opposite. Micah 6:8 says the Lord requires us to “walk humbly” with our God.  Pride is the original deadly sin because it leads us away.

Tom will be preaching downtown where Life worship is at 10:00 in Brady Hall. Traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Mitch is preaching at the west campus where contemporary worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.  His sermon title is “Singing the Blues,” based on Psalm 42.

Come home to church this Sunday.  Don’t allow your pride to keep you away!

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator