Contemplating Oz: If I Only Had a Brain

Life Notes—September 26, 2013 

  “O simple ones, learn prudence; acquire intelligence, you who lack it.”  Proverbs 8:5

“Oh, I’m a failure because I haven’t got a brain.”  The Scarecrow

Dorothy and Toto are traveling the yellow brick road when they come to an intersection.  As they contemplate the best road to take, a scarecrow hanging in a field suggests one route, and then another.  He cannot make up his mind which road is best. Dorothy tells him that is not helpful. The scarecrow replies, “That’s the trouble: I can’t make up my mind.  I haven’t got a brain.”  Of course, the scarecrow’s dilemma is not that he lacks a brain.  His problem is a lack of confidence in the brain he has.  He feels poorly equipped to deal with the challenges of life.  When decision-time arrives, he cannot decide whether to go right or left.  Many of us have a similar problem.  We have trouble making decisions and sometimes attribute our indecisiveness to a lack of intelligence.

I am fortunate to know many intelligent people, only some of whom have college degrees.  We all know people who are very smart about some things, and unbelievably dumb about other things.  IQ tests, college entrance exams, and advanced degrees reflect certain capacities to learn, but do they equate to intelligence?  Obviously, they do not.  Intelligence is situational.  The mental skills required to navigate the various challenges of life are different, based on the challenge at hand.  Not everyone receives every type of mental ability.  Mathematics comes easily to some and is the worst nightmare for others.  Personally, I have very little understanding of mechanical creations like cars and motors.  I have done many dumb things trying to fix a mower or work on my car.  However, it is not because I lack a brain.  I lack a type of intelligence and need the help of others.

The writer of Proverbs says that those who lack intelligence should acquire it.  We can acquire intelligence by learning more.  We can also acquire intelligence by borrowing it from others, like when we ask for help.  The Wizard assures the Scarecrow others have no more brains than he has.  Indeed, the Scarecrow is arguably the most creative and resourceful thinker in Dorothy’s group.  They are part of a community with diverse talents and intelligences.  Their community works together to overcome the various forms of wickedness the witch puts before them.  When we become active in a church, we join a community.  We no longer need to face our challenges alone.  Where we are dumb, others will be smart.  Dorothy’s community did not let wickedness stand between her and home.  Together, in community, we meet every challenge more capably.

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.  Join your brain with a community of faith.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Contemplating Oz

Life Notes—September 19, 2013 

  “Peace be to the whole community, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  Ephesians 6:23

“Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore!”  Dorothy Gale

There was a once-a-year event when I was a child that was not to be missed.  It was the annual showing of The Wizard of Oz.  In the days before VCR, DVD and Blu-Ray players, movies that were no longer in theatres could only be seen on television.  My family planned around the showing of The Wizard of Oz so as not to miss it.  I have vivid memories of Dorothy on her colorless Kansas farm, living with her Auntie Em and Uncle Henry.  I cowered in fear of the Wicked Witch and her flying monkeys.  The Wizard’s voice was haunting, echoing through his chambers, and sounded like power personified.

The Wizard of Oz, filmed in 1939, remains popular nearly 75 years later.  I believe the movie has an appeal that extends beyond a well-told story.  Specifically, it contains elements that connect deep within our being.  Some say Dorothy represents humankind and the Scarecrow, Lion, and Tin man symbolize the plant, animal, and mineral worlds.  Others see the film as a classic good vs. evil drama, as Dorothy and her companions seek to outwit the more powerful Wicked Witch.  Still others frame the story as a class struggle, where the working poor, like the Gales, battle against the rich, like Miss Gulch.

For me, The Wizard of Oz is a story of community.  Dorothy, caught in a storm, finds herself in a different world.  We are familiar with those types of storms.  A home burns to the ground; a loved one passes away; the doctor calls and wants to discuss our test results—today.  All of a sudden, we are not in Kansas anymore.  We find ourselves in unfamiliar territory.  This new land resembles the old in some respects, but it is clearly foreign.  Like Dorothy, we begin an unexpected and unplanned journey feeling confused, alone, and frightened.  We discover the only way out of the storm is to go through it.  On her way through, Dorothy finds a community to help her get back home.  Like Dorothy, we need a community to help us through our storms. We need the gifts and graces of friends and family to help meet the challenges of each next step.  The next few Life Notes will look at a few of the familiar characters from The Wizard of Oz.  The Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion provide crucial elements of community for Dorothy, in spite of their individual shortcomings.  Her community carries her back; changed from the journey, but home.  After all, there is no place like home.

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.  Follow the Yellow Brick Road…

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

An Unencumbered Spirit

Life Notes—September 12, 2013 

  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Matthew 5:3

A decade ago we had an above ground swimming pool installed in our backyard.  I built a wooden deck around the pool and we had many years of summer fun with family and friends.  Youth group gatherings, family reunions, and other times of fellowship occurred in and around that pool.  However, our children grew and left for college.  In recent years there has been only one regular swimmer: me.  While I enjoyed the pool on hot days, it required regular allotments of time, energy, and money to maintain.  What was once a hub for fun and fellowship for many became an encumbrance on my life.  We decided to give the pool and deck away to another family to enjoy as their children grew.

Removing the pool and deck left a large open space in our yard.  I had grand visions of retaining walls, a fishpond, a waterfall, and a fire pit to fill the space.  My wife had a more practical vision of grass.  My vision, while potentially beautiful, would have required regular allotments of time and money to maintain.  My wife’s vision provided a simpler and less encumbering beauty.  For me, this experience illuminates the passage from Matthew, quoted above.  It is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  To be poor in spirit is not a highly valued characteristic today.  We equate being poor with lacking things of importance.  However, when we understand how some possessions come to possess us, being poor takes on a different character.  Does losing my pool make me poor?  It was a thing of value I no longer possess.  In truth, it was no longer blessing our family, and so it became a burden.  The net result of becoming poorer by giving away our pool was to become freer.  In my haste to fill the empty space in our yard, I nearly substituted one encumbrance for another.  At least in this case, simpler (or poorer) is better because it frees resources and energy for blessing others and myself in new ways.

I am amazed at the joyous, high-energy worship of some believers, particularly in third-world countries.  They praise with a freedom of spirit and emotion that seems out of proportion to their blessings. Yet, I wonder if their unfettered worship is the product of an unencumbered spirit.  Most of us are rich with stuff, not all of which actually blesses us.  Our possessions bind us in ways that leave that little energy for other purposes; like worship, thanksgiving and praise.  Perhaps our subdued worship is due to worshippers with heavily encumbered spirits.  Jesus says the poor in spirit will receive the kingdom of heaven.  There must be unseen riches in being poor.

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.  Strive to become poorer in spirit with us.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Throwing Stones

Life Notes—September 5, 2013 

  “…they said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery.  Now in the law of Moses commanded us to stone such women.  Now what do you say?’  When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’”  John 8:5,7

My third-grade teacher, Mrs. Everett, taught me not to point at others.  She illustrated how each time I pointed a finger at another, three fingers pointed back at me.  The point was to use care when accusing others of wrongdoing.  All of us make mistakes and do things we should not do.  Jesus made the same point several times in his ministry.  In Matthew 7:3 he says, “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?”  Likewise, in Luke 6:37 Jesus is quoted, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned…”

The Gospel of John records the story of a woman caught in the act of adultery.  A group drags the woman to Jesus.  They remind him the Law of Moses commands she be stoned. Jesus does not deny she deserves death for her sin.  Instead, he reminds the crowd of their own shortcomings by inviting those without sin to throw the first stone.  He knows everyone in the crowd has sinned.  No one dared throw a stone at the woman.  To do so would imply he or she had never sinned, an admission of impossible piety.  As the crowd disperses, Jesus asks who has condemned her.  She replies, “No one, sir.”  Jesus responds, “Neither do I condemn you.  Go your way, and from now on do not sin, again.” 

This story is intriguing in a couple of ways.  First, Jesus shrewdly warns the crowd about judging others.  He does so in a way that does not condone the woman’s sin.  Rather, he reminds the crowd of their own sinful nature.  We are often too quick to condemn others.  Second, while Jesus forgives the woman of her sin, he also tells her not to sin again.  In that sense, her forgiveness was not free.  She was told to alter her lifestyle so she would not continue to sin.  In order for forgiveness to result in positive change, we must repent of our sin.  Repentance requires (1) acknowledging we have sinned, and (2) turning away from that sinful behavior.  Forgiveness is not a get-out-of-jail-free card allowing us to freely judge others or continue unhealthy behaviors.  Mrs. Everett and Jesus remind us that one finger pointed at another leaves three pointing back at us.

A new sermon series begins this Sunday on “The Sermon on the Mount.”  This week’s sermon will be “Redefining Happiness: The Beatitudes,” based on Matthew 5:1-11.  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.  Leave your stones at the door.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator