Gratitude and Happiness

Life Notes—November 28, 2013 

  “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.” Colossians 3:14-15

Grandma Hildenbrand was a grateful person. She appreciated the good in everyone. I do not recall gossip, pessimism, or foul language ever crossing her lips. I actually felt guilty, because the person she saw in me was far superior to the person I believed myself to be. She unfailingly praised and encouraged me. She was grateful to God for me, her first grandchild. Being positive and grateful was a way of life for my grandmother.

Recently, I watched a TED Talk ( by Shawn Achor titled, “The Happiness Advantage.” He is a proponent of Positive Psychology, which suggests how we view our world largely shapes our experience of reality. A focus of the talk was to encourage listeners to untie happiness from success. Our definitions of success are constantly changing and seldom reached. Therefore, if we believe we must be “successful” to be happy, we will never be happy. Even when we reach a long worked-for goal, our definition for success will likely shift before we reach the goal. The speaker had a formula for creating positive change in our lives. The first step was to identify three new things to be grateful for, every day, for twenty-one consecutive days. While success and happiness may not be related, gratitude and happiness certainly are.

Thanksgiving Day is a day of gratitude. It occurs in the late fall to recognize the blessings of the year. While it has become an exercise in over-indulgence, the foundation of the day is thankfulness. Most of us gather with family and friends, share a meal or two, and enjoy fellowship with each other. Life is good. In spite of the many tragedies and challenges sprinkled throughout her life, grandma was thankful. We should be, too.

Being intentionally thankful is a wise choice to make. A grateful heart is not only pleasing and helpful for others, expressing appreciation is a biblical charge, as in the passage from Colossians above. Perhaps most importantly, there is a selfish reason to be grateful—it is good for us! When we observe our life through a lens of gratitude, we find reason for hope and optimism. We become happier people. Until we begin identifying the many reasons we have for thankfulness, we cannot understand how truly blessed we are. I pray you find much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving!

Come home to church this Sunday. Thankfulness, not success, is the key to happiness.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Small Gods

Life Notes—November 21, 2013 

  “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always accuse, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, not repay us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:8-12

My daughter and I had a ritual at bedtime. It involved me showing how much I loved her. I would begin by holding my thumb and forefinger about an inch apart asking, “Do I love you this much?” She would say, “No, daddy, you love me more than that.” The exercise would continue through several iterations, until I would have my hands spread as far apart as they would go, and I would ask, “Do I love you this much?”  She would giggle and respond, “Yes, daddy, that is how much you love me!” My daughter would not settle for anything less than the maximum amount of love her father could give. No child should have to settle for less.

Some people and churches seem to believe in a very small God. A church in the town I grew up in is obsessed with homosexuality. Their entire ministry revolves around what they believe to be God’s hatred of gays. There is no love or grace in their message. Their small group of members, largely from one family, manages to garner national attention to their vulgar and offensive ministry. Whoever their God is, I do not believe in that God.

I am aware of other churches who believe only a handful of God’s people will enter the kingdom of heaven when they die. Their requirements to be among the elect vary between churches, but their God only accepts certain people. I know some passages in the Bible imply only a few go to heaven. However, taken in the context of the Bible as a whole, and Jesus’ ministry of love and grace for all, I believe those passages are wrongly interpreted. I do not believe in their God of limited acceptance, either.

When God came to earth as a human, in the person of Jesus, God chose to associate with sinners and to criticize the church leaders. Jesus devoted his ministry to the lost and broken, he taught the seekers and doubters, and he forgave the sins of all who asked. Jesus manifested an enormous God, one with enough love for all of us. God is my heavenly parent, and I need a God who loves me more than I will ever need. That is the God I believe in. The others are too small.

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 to know the greatness of God.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

Grace in an Awkward World

Life Notes—November 14, 2013 

  “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” John 1:16-17

Coaches of struggling sports teams often lament the need for players to get back to the basics of the sport. Athletes learn the fundamentals of the game, often at an early age, prior to developing the advanced skills that allow them to perform at a high level. Unfortunately, when they ignore the fundamentals, the effectiveness of their skills deteriorates rapidly. In such cases, players must return to the foundational skills needed for the game.  Once they have solidified the basics, their advanced skills help them excel.

In the science of Physics there is a concept called entropy. It refers to the likelihood of a controlled system falling into disorder or chaos after the removal of its controls. Examples of entropy abound in our world. If I were to stop mowing my grass, my yard would turn into a prairie. After a few months, trees would begin to grow. Within a few years, my yard would resemble a young forest. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with a forest, except that my wife and I want a yard around our home. Entropy manifests when I try to have a yard in an area that naturally tends to grow a forest. To maintain a yard I must obey the fundamentals of lawn care, the most basic of which is regular mowing.

Our spirituality often requires a return to the basics of faith, too. It is easy to become distracted from the fundamental faith practices of reflection, prayer, and the reading of scripture. My personal entropy leads me to the television set or other distractions, while leading me away from faith-strengthening practices. Centering myself in my faith requires regular attention. I must often force myself to spend time in prayer, scripture, and reflection. I must consciously turn away from other attractive entertainments in order to remain spiritually grounded. While entertainment has its place, my ability to enjoy such distractions increases when my spiritual center is intact, as does my ability to handle challenging moments. Like the athlete getting back to the basics of his or her sport, we need a strong foundation in order to excel.

We live in an awkward world. Our lives do not often go the way we want or need without guidance and conscious effort. It is when we are close to our spiritual center we find grace in the awkward moments. Keeping ourselves close to God and grounded in solid faith practices helps us find the grace, often hidden, in everyday moments.

Come home to church this Sunday. Perhaps it is time to get back to the basics of faith.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

It’s Only Weird if it Doesn’t Work

Life Notes—November 7, 2013 

  “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9

Lately, a series of commercials has been showing that display the odd superstitions of sports fans. Perhaps you have seen one. A group of fans line up the labels of their beer bottles at a key moment in the game. A young man claims his “lucky” seat for the game. Another refrains from washing his favorite jersey as long as his team continues to win. The key line of the commercial is “It’s only weird if it doesn’t work.” 

Recently I visited with a friend about religion. He expressed doubt that he could ever accept certain religious beliefs. Our conversation led to a discussion about Christianity. Those unfamiliar with Christian beliefs and traditions must look with skepticism on some of our beliefs and practices. We pray to an unseen God. We believe a baby was born to a virgin mother to save the world. We celebrate the martyr’s death and resurrection of our Savior. We worship a God who chose to come to earth as a homeless wanderer to associate with sinners. Much of what we accept as Christians must seem very strange to non-Christians. How many people turn away because a well-intentioned Christian spoke “Christian-ese” to someone who did not grow up with it? Can we expect a seeker to be comfortable with the way-to-life-in-Christ we have spent years coming to know? I was raised a Christian and have heard the stories and practiced the traditions since I was born.

Even so, I understand how some of my core beliefs may seem as weird to an outsider as the importance of watching a football game from my lucky chair, wearing a dirty jersey with the label of my favorite beverage facing the television. Much as I long to have others experience the life-changing love and grace of Jesus Christ, I know that sort of relationship takes time to develop. I know if I am to lead another to a relationship with Christ, I must be patient and persistent. Further, I must live a life they will want to emulate. Finally, I know Christ must be experienced to become real. Just as we cannot experience love or beauty through the words of others, so we cannot talk others into a relationship with Jesus. The superstitious among us should be prepared to defend the positive impact of our rituals on the outcome of a game. Likewise, Christians should be prepared to defend the positive impact of their beliefs; to be able to articulate the hope and freedom we find in Christ. Jesus calls us to be different, not weird.

Come home to church this Sunday. After all, it’s only weird if it doesn’t work.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator