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Archive for January, 2014

Life Worship Notes—January 30, 2104 

“You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments”  Exodus 20:4-6

The first of the Ten Commandments is to have no other Gods before our God. Last week I speculated that the wording of that commandment sounds as if there may be more Gods than one. In the second commandment, God admits to being a “jealous God,” and extols us not to make or worship idols. In Old Testament days, it was a common practice to make and worship various idols. Some were made of gold, others of stone, wood or other materials available at the time. The practice always brought the ire of God.

I wonder what God thinks about some of our current religious and spiritual practices. I often worship in the presence of items like crosses, candles, incense, pictures, and other things of spiritual significance to me. Are those idols under the second commandment? How about praying the rosary, or praying to the saints? In my church, there are no prayers or worship directed to beings other than God; but when we kneel at the altar and gaze up at the cross, are we worshipping the object of the cross or acknowledging the God who died there for us?

I suspect violations of the second commandment have more to do with the focus of our worship, instead of the objects used to help focus our worship. The true idols of today are those objects that compete with God for our faith, attention, and devotion. Television, money, work, the desire for advancement—many things can become the primary focus in our lives, thus attaining “idol” status. When we desire anything more than that which enhances our relationship with God, our faith and trust are misplaced. A promotion at work might temporarily boost our ego or our checkbook, but it will do nothing towards spreading God’s good news, or growing closer to the giver of all things in life. God is the source of our being, not our employer. The second commandment says God is a jealous God. While it is difficult for me to picture God succumbing to a human type of jealousy, it is easy for me to believe God wants what is in our best interest. Certainly, it is best for us to focus our worship on the one, true God, from where unfailing love for us flows.

Come home to church this Sunday. Leave your idols at home…

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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Life Worship Notes—January 23, 2104 

“Then the Lord God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other Gods before me.” Exodus 20:1-3

No Other Gods Before Me

When I was an adolescent, there was a clear distinction drawn between having a “girlfriend” and having a girl as a friend. There was a degree of exclusivity to having a girlfriend. There was a type of relationship in both cases, but I could have as many girls for friends as I wanted. I could only have one girlfriend, however; at least only one at a time. Particularly early in adolescence, having a girlfriend did not necessarily imply anything particularly romantic—holding hands, perhaps—but it did imply more time and attention was lavished on a girlfriend than a girl friend.

The wording of the first of the Ten Commandments is particularly interesting because of the words “before me.” The commandment does not say, “…you shall have no other Gods.” It says, “…you shall have no other Gods before me.” The implication is there may be other Gods apart from the God of Israel, at least in the understanding of the writer of Exodus. Certainly, Hindus recognize hundreds of Gods. Even so, my Christian upbringing left the indelible impression there is only one God. It reminds me of girlfriends from my past, who left the indelible impression there was only one girl!

Could there be more Gods than the one we worship? Those who distinguish our Christian God from the God or Gods of other religions intrigue me. My current understanding leads me to a belief in one God, even though I recognize there are many different understandings of that one God. I do not believe we, in our human state, have the capacity to grasp the entire vastness of our God. We latch onto that which is within our comprehension. Unfortunately, when we do not acknowledge there are aspects of God’s nature beyond our comprehension, we use our limited understanding to build a religious wall separating ourselves from others with a different understanding. We criticize another’s limited understanding of God by judging them, based upon our own limited understanding. Even so, whether we believe there is one God or many, the first commandment is unwavering that we are to have none above our God. We are to lavish time, attention, and praise on our God. After all, this is the God who freed our ancestors from their bonds of slavery in Egypt. The same God, today, frees us from the bonds of our slavery to sin. That is more than worthy of exclusivity from us.

Come home to church this Sunday. Come worship the one God.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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Life Worship Notes—January 16, 2104 

“Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the Lord had descended upon it in fire; the smoke went up like the smoke of a kiln, while the whole mountain shook violently. As the blast of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses would speak and God would answer him in thunder.” Exodus 19:18-19

Is it any wonder the Israelites feared God? God tells Moses to gather the people at the foot of Mount Sinai, where God will come down in their sight. However, God warns the people not to touch the mountain or try to go up it, for they will be put to death for doing so. When God descends upon Mount Sinai, it is in a thick cloud of smoke with thunder, lightning, and fire. A trumpet blasts so loud it makes the people tremble. The entire mountain shook violently. In the Gulf War of the 1990’s, the United States began its attempts to unseat Saddam Hussain with a bombing campaign described as shock and awe. I imagine God’s appearance to the Israelites as the original shock and awe campaign. Moses spoke to God, and God answered in thunder. It was in this setting that God gave the Ten Commandments, the original laws of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

The Ten Commandments, in their entirety, appear twice in the Old Testament. Their first appearance is in Exodus 20, with a repeat appearance in Deuteronomy. God carves the words onto two stone tablets for the people, and Moses carries the tablets to the camp at the base of the mountain, after having spent forty days with God at the summit. They build an elaborate Ark of the Covenant to house and carry the stone tablets. The six-hundred-plus laws contained in the Old Testament are probably outgrowths of the Ten Commandments, or perhaps guidelines for their application. Even so, many of those laws appear unrelated to any of the commandments. It is not unlike the thousands of laws in our society, and the millions of legal regulations, all emanating from our relatively brief Constitution. The Ten Commandments are among the most widely known of biblical writings. They form the basis for many of our western laws, and appear in many courthouses and other public places. They are recognized and taught in most of the world’s major religions, either in the form given to Moses, or in a similar version. Some are obvious, some are subtle; all are important and form the basis of justice, as we know it today. That is why they are the Ten Commandments, and not the Ten Suggestions. In the coming weeks, I will explore each of the Ten Commandments. Although some appear straightforward, a closer inspection creates room for contemplation and discussion.

Come home to church this Sunday. It is only a suggestion, but it is a good one…

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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Life Worship Notes—January 9, 2104 

“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. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 12:12-13

On Tuesday morning, I heard a news story that gave me pause. It was about a non-religious gathering called a Sunday Assembly. It began in Britain a couple years ago and has grown to about thirty congregations in several countries, including a number in the United States. A Sunday Assembly is for those who desire fellowship, music, and community. It is described as, “The best bits of church, but with no religion.” The gatherings may have music, meditation, lectures, and readings, but nothing of a religious nature. My first thought was that it sounded like a good alternative for non-church folk. However, the more I thought about it, the more I believe it represents a colossal failure of the church body. The fact that people have a desire to gather in community is affirmation of our need to be a part of a larger body. The fact that these people want everything in their collective body except religion makes me fear we have failed, miserably, in making the worship of God appealing to all of God’s children.

The church, as the body of Christ, should be at the forefront of community. It reminds me of the leadership adage, “A leader without followers is just someone taking a walk.” Are we just out for a walk, or are we making a compelling and attractive case for people to join us? Recently, I read this post on Facebook: “Your life as a Christian should make nonbelievers question their disbelief in God.” I believe that; but apparently, we have a ways to go in putting it into practice. The community of the church consists of believers communing with each other and with God. When we remove God from the community, what remains—a party? Clearly, people attending Sunday Assembly are finding something worthwhile in their gathering.

Do not misunderstand me. I find many non-church gatherings fun, fulfilling, and spirit-filled. What concerns me is the intentional exclusion of God. Certainly, not every person is comfortable with every type of religious practice. However, we worship a huge God in many different ways. God reaches out to us as a loving parent, and life is simply better when we reach back. Why is that such a difficult message to get out? Our churches have become places where some, seeking community, prefer to avoid. Is that a problem of theirs, or is it our problem? I choose to believe the latter. We simply must find enticing ways to reconnect people to God, for their sake, as well as for the community.

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

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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Life Worship Notes—January 2, 2104 

“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” 2 Corinthians 5:17

It is January 1 as I type this note. I look out the window on a cold, colorless day. The sky is an oppressive grey, the grass is brown, and the trees are bare. The temperature is twenty degrees, but a stiff north wind makes it feel much colder. At first glance, it is a dismal time of the year—lifeless and depressing. It is difficult to imagine anything good resulting from a day like today, or even from this time of the year.

However, as I look closely at the branches of the River Birch outside my window, I see the buds are noticeably swollen. There are buds the size of robin’s eggs on the Magnolia tree in the front yard. If I part the brown blades of grass on the frozen ground, I see a green base. As I push aside leftover leaf piles on the flowerbeds, I see the tender shoots of early bulbs preparing to push through the brown earth. On closer inspection and in spite of the current conditions, life is preparing to POP! Everything good in our lives takes time to develop, and everything springs forth in its time.

I often wonder why Christmas Day occurs in late December. The environment in much of the northern hemisphere can be overly harsh for such a joyous celebration at that time of year. There is no solid evidence in the Bible for the date or season of Christ’s birth. I have heard some researchers say it was likely March; others say June. Personally, I say late December is perfect. The birth of Jesus was like a divine seed planted into the earth. It lay dormant for a time and then, in its season, burst forth in all its glory. Two thousand years later, the fruit of his life, death, and resurrection continues to feed hungry souls and heal broken lives.

Late December is a spectacular time, for those willing to look deeper, beyond the greys and browns. It is a time of preparation for good things to come; a time of rest and renewal before spring bursts forth in all its colorful and dynamic glory. It is through the eyes of faith we know the seeds of that glory have already been sown. Those same eyes of faith help us recognize the Son of God in the form of a baby. New creations worth birthing come with a struggle. Being born again is not supposed to be easy; but through its trials, the new creation gains strength and resolve. Late December is a great time for Christmas. Stark and barren on the outside, but full of life within.

Come home to church this Sunday. It is warmth for the soul.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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