Words and Meditations

Life Notes—October 31, 2013 

  “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”

Psalm 19:14

I am often careless about the words I say.  There are times I wonder what I was thinking to have said what I said.  The fact is I was not thinking enough.  Part of my problem is I like to be witty.  A thought will spring into my head; it will seem clever and out it goes.  Once I saw a demonstration where a child squeezed a tube of toothpaste onto a plate.  Then he was told to put the toothpaste back into the tube.  Of course, that is impossible. The lesson was that our words are like the toothpaste.  They come out much easier than they go back in.  Indeed, we need to be careful not just in the words we utter, but also in how we choose to say them.

At times it seems words come into my head uninvited.  It is as if someone whispers words into my ear and they come out of my mouth.  Of course, that is not what happens.  Our words are a product of our meditations.  How we view people and interpret the events around us produce the words we say.  At least for me, there is a nearly continuous dialogue running in my head.  Sometimes that dialogue is meaningful and analytical.  Other times it is simply nonsense.  I am fully capable of working myself into an emotional frenzy, stemming from an internal dialogue having no basis in reality.  Sometimes I will project negative qualities onto others that simply are not factual.  When my internal dialogue begins with false or hurtful assumptions, the conclusions I draw will be equally false and hurtful.  A computer acronym comes to mind: GIGO.  It stands for: Garbage In, Garbage Out.

Psalm 19 contains a prayer I do well to remember daily.  If my words are not acceptable to God should I say them to another person?  Even more fundamental, the Psalm encourages us to examine the meditations of our hearts.  If our internal dialogue, our meditation, is not pleasing to God, should we allow it to fester?  Stopping and/or controlling the meditations of our hearts is not easy.  It requires the conscious focusing of our attention in specific directions.  It is similar to when we visit with others.  We cannot learn if we do all the talking.  We need to listen to learn.  Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God!”  When our internal dialogue runs rampant and uncontrolled we cannot listen to or learn from God or anyone else.  However, when the meditations of our hearts are pleasing to God, we need not worry about the words coming from our mouths.

Come home to church this Sunday.  Plant God-pleasing meditations into your heart.

Greg Hildenbrand

Contemplating Oz: There is No Place Like Home

Life Notes—October 24, 2013 

  “And Jesus said to them, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’” Matthew 8:20

“Oh, Auntie Em, there’s no place like home!”  Dorothy Gale

Following a hit to the head with a window sent flying by a Kansas twister, Dorothy Gale leaves her dreary Kansas farm and finds herself in Oz.  The Land of Oz is beautiful, colorful, and mysterious.  It is home to munchkins and roads of yellow brick.  There are good witches and bad witches.  There are horses of a different color and forests full of lions and tigers and bears. Oh my!  Dorothy meets a few good and faithful friends in Oz, yet all she can think about is that she wants to go home.  For Dorothy, home was her familiar, if drab Kansas farm.

I am a homeboy.  Although I enjoy working and traveling, my heart never strays far from home.  I am always happy to see our house at the end of the gravel drive, regardless of whether I have been away for a week or an hour.  Even if the yard needs mowing and the trim needs painting, it is home and it is where I long to be.  Home is comfortable and familiar.  It is where I feel loved and accepted, in spite of my faults and frailties.  Early in the movie, Dorothy runs away from home believing her family does not understand her.  She wants to see new lands and meet new people.  Once in Oz—a new land with new people—she wants to return home.

There are many ways to view home.  For some it is the physical structure in which they eat and sleep.  For others it is the company of those who love and accept them.  For a soul, home is its earthly body.  In spite of their different natures, all earthly homes are temporary.  Houses crumble from age, burn to the ground, or blow away in tornadoes.  Our bodies weaken and die.  In Matthew, Jesus claims he has no earthly home.  He tells his followers they must leave behind everything that is comfortable and familiar.  That is not a comfortable thought for a homebody like me. However, Jesus does not call us to homelessness or friendlessness.  Rather, he calls us to a new home and a new community, an eternal home known as the kingdom of God.  Just as we cannot live in two structures at the same time, we cannot simultaneously be home on earth and home with God.  Home is where the heart is and God desires that part of us.  Dorothy could not be home in Kansas and home in Oz—she had to make a choice.  Jesus calls us to make a choice, too.

Come home to church this Sunday.  After all, there is no place like home.

Greg Hildenbrand

Contemplating Oz: An Accidental Calling

Life Notes—October 17, 2013 

  “We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us…” Romans 12:6a

“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”  The Wizard of Oz

I volunteered to coach my son’s first soccer team.  He and his friends were about six years old and needed a coach.  Unfortunately, I knew next to nothing about the game.  I did not know the rules, the skills, or team strategies.  Honestly, I did not even like soccer at the time.  How was I to mold this group of kids into a soccer team?  My only redeeming quality was that I loved watching them play.

The man who became the Wizard of Oz did not intend to become a wizard at all.  He was flying in his hot air balloon, became lost, and landed in Oz.  The people of the land, awed to see him arriving from the sky, crowned him Wizard.  He did not know any more about being a wizard than I knew about coaching soccer.  Dorothy first discovered the fraud and said, “Oh, you’re a very bad man!”  The Wizard replied, “Oh no, my dear, I’m a very good man.  I’m just a very bad wizard.”  I know the feeling.  I was a very good man and a very good father.  I was just a very bad soccer coach.

But was the Wizard really a bad wizard?  Was I really a bad soccer coach?  Although the Wizard could not magically fill the needs of Dorothy and her companions, he was wise enough to recognize they were all misguided about their individual shortcomings.  The Scarecrow did not need a brain; he needed recognition of his existing ability to think.  The Wizard provided that.  The Tin man did not need a heart.  He needed acknowledgement of the loving, caring being he already was.  The Wizard provided that.  The Cowardly Lion did not need courage.  He needed to learn that being afraid of danger does not make one a coward.  The Wizard taught him that.  My son and his friends did not need to become professional soccer players.  They needed an adult to organize their play, protect them from undue harm, and allow them a healthy outlet for their joy and energy.  Maybe I was not such a bad soccer coach after all.

We find ourselves in uncomfortable roles, sometimes, whether we feel qualified for them or not.  When a community has a need, an expert is not always available or necessary.  A new perspective or new energy may meet the need.  Someone who provides time and attention can work miracles in those cases. We do not need to be a good Wizard or a good soccer coach to be a good person.  Sometimes we simply need to be present.

Come home to church this Sunday.  You may discover gifts you did not know you possessed.

Greg Hildenbrand

Contemplating Oz: Fear and Courage

Life Notes—October 10, 2013 

  “Be strong and of good courage, and act.  Do not be afraid or dismayed; for the Lord God, my God, is with you.  He will not fail you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished.”  1 Chronicles 28:20b-21

“Courage is being afraid but going on anyhow.”  Dan Rather

In the movie The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy and her companions are walking through a dark forest when confronted by a lion.  The lion acts brave until Dorothy stands up to him.  Then the lion reveals his true nature: he is a coward.  He tearfully says, “I haven’t any courage at all.  I even scare myself.”  Similar to the Scarecrow and Tin man, what he actually lacks is confidence in the abilities he already possesses.  Near the end, the Wizard gives the lion a metal for courage and says, “As for you, my fine friend, you’re a victim of disorganized thinking. You are under the delusion that simply because you run away from danger you have no courage. You are confusing courage with wisdom.”

King David spent his years on the throne reuniting the people of Israel.  The crowning achievement of his time as king was to be the building of the Temple—a permanent home for the worship of God.  However, God tells David he will not be allowed to build the Temple because the reuniting of the people came at a violent price in blood and treasure.  David’s son, Solomon, would build the Temple.  Solomon, who became the wisest and wealthiest of all the Jewish kings, was just a boy when tasked to build the Temple.  He was awed by the daunting load placed on his shoulders and, no doubt, feared the consequences of failure.  Before he died, David told Solomon to “Be strong and of good courage, and act.”  Indeed, courage manifests in action.

There are times we must act in spite of our fear.  It is in our acts that our courage, or lack thereof, becomes apparent.  Being courageous does not mean we act foolishly.  It means we have a worthy goal that justifies the risk of taking action.  The Cowardly Lion did not lose his fear in search of his courage.  He found a higher purpose that motivated him to act in spite of his fear.  In his community, and on behalf of his companions, he was able to act in ways unimaginable before.  He drew strength from the needs of his community, uncovering his courage in the process.  Many things cause fear in our lives.  Fear can paralyze us into inaction, thereby perpetuating our fear and cowardice.  However, when we find a higher purpose, something worthy of bold action, our fears recede into the background.

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.  Do not be afraid to have a heart for others.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Contemplating Oz: Judging a Heart

Life Notes—October 3, 2013 

  “If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor.”  Deuteronomy 15:7

“Just because I’m presumin’ that I could be kind and human, if I only had a heart.”  The Tin man

Dorothy and the Scarecrow are on their way to the Emerald City when they come across a rusted man made of tin.  Once they get his joints oiled they find out he, like they, believes he is lacking something crucial.  He has no heart.  The Tin man is convinced he could be kind, loving and sentimental if he only had a heart.  Of course, the Tin man is arguably the most kind and sentimental of anyone in Dorothy’s community, with or without a heart.  Even so, he feels he cannot be complete without one.

In the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy the Jewish people receive instruction in how to live a life of obedience to God.  That instruction includes guidance on how to treat each other.  They are not to be hard-hearted with a neighbor in need.  The writing goes on to say they are to share from their abundance with their fellow Jews in need.  Jesus, in the New Testament, repeats the very same sentiment when he commands us to love one another.  We cannot be loving and hard-hearted at the same time.  Unlike some of the early Jews, the Tin man wants to love others, but feels incapable of doing so.  It is easy to become hard-hearted toward others, even with that big red muscle pumping faithfully in our chest.  We convince ourselves because we have worked for what we have, others should be able to do the same.  We assume someone else will meet a need we ignore.  Perhaps most commonly, we become so consumed by our daily lives we leave no time to notice or attend to the needs of others.  However, the command to love others was second in importance only to loving God, at least according to Jesus.  As Christians, we are called to have a heart for God, and to have a heart for others.

As the Wizard awards the Tin man a heart he says, “And remember, my sentimental friend, that a heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.”  What must we do to earn the love of others?  We first love them by providing time, attention, and giving freely of ourselves according to their need.  The Tin man shows his love through selfless acts for his community. We need not worry how our hearts will be judged if we do the same.

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.  Have a heart for others.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator