Archive for April, 2014

A New Body

While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have. Luke 24:36-39

After Jesus rose from the grave on the morning we celebrate as Easter, he appeared to his disciples a number of times. All four Gospel accounts of the post-resurrection days record appearances of the risen Christ. Based on those accounts, however, the body of the risen Jesus is clearly different than before. Often, his closest followers do not recognize Jesus until he speaks to them. He enters rooms through locked doors. He appears, and then disappears from gatherings of his disciples. He reprises his walk upon the sea. Jesus rose from the dead, but he did not return in an identical body. His new body resembled the old, however, and it still bore the holes and scars from his crucifixion. He eats and converses with his followers, as he did in his previous life, but this is not the same Jesus.

In his final hours on earth, Jesus suffered a litany of the worst types of torture imaginable. One of his closest friends betrayed him to the religious authorities, who promptly convicted him of blasphemy in a sham trial. He was beaten, scourged, humiliated, and mocked. He suffered inconceivable physical and emotional abuse. Finally, nailed to a cross for hours in the hot sun, he died. And when it was finished, he rose from the dead and returned to earth. Jesus returned to earth changed, however, and with a new body.

There are many profound lessons from the death and resurrection of Christ, one of which is that there is new life on the other side of suffering. While we do not always return to an earthly life, there is always life on the other side. And we are always changed as a result of our struggles. We may look similar, but our bodies and spirits bear the marks of our experiences. Often, we rearrange our priorities, and what was important before, fades into obscurity. That type of rebirth is one purpose of death – when something needs to change or grow, something else must die first. Like a chick, persistently and exhaustingly pecking its way out of the egg; like a mother giving birth; like Jacob wrestling with God; like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. New life comes at a cost; our souls reach for a higher experience, and a new life emerges from the old. Jesus showed us – on the cross and out of the tomb – that there is always life on the other side, often in a new body.

Come home to church this Sunday. There comes a time to begin again.

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Imminent Death

Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground. Luke 22:41-42, 44

If I could see into the future, and if I knew this would be my last evening on earth, how would I choose to spend it? I might decide to cram as much frolic and debauchery into the evening as possible. There would be no concern about the personal consequences of my actions, because I would be dead tomorrow, anyway. There are a host of sins I might decide to commit in my attempt to stuff as much fun into my final moments as possible. On the other hand, I might decide to spend my last evening on earth quietly, with those I have grown closest to. I might want to make certain they have the information only I can share. I might want to assure myself that those I leave behind will be okay.

While none of us knows exactly when our physical death will occur, all of us know death will come. Jesus, however, knew the when and the how of his death. He foresaw his betrayal into the hands of the Temple guards, his sham trials, and his being handed over to the Roman authorities for crucifixion. He knew, in a few short hours, he would be beaten, scourged, spat upon, humiliated, and nailed to a cross for the most excruciating death imaginable. He also knew he would suffer and die on behalf of his own murders.

Jesus chose to spend his final hours as one with more tasks on his to-do list than hours remaining to accomplish them. He shared his final meal with his closest friends. There was a lot of instruction shared by Jesus during this closing evening, knowing that was his last opportunity to teach. The Gospel of John tells of a moving act of humility, when Jesus washes the feet of his disciples (John 13:1-11). The other Gospels record Jesus instituting communion at his last supper, as in Luke 22:14-23. Shortly before his arrest, he went to a quiet garden to pray. It would be difficult for me to decide how best to spend my last hours on earth. Jesus had a plan, however, that would lay the foundation for His church. Jesus spent his last hours on earth accomplishing what only he could know would be required for our salvation, today.

Come home to church this Sunday. Witness the risen Christ in the body of His church!

Greg Hildenbrand

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Committed Love

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15:12-13

There is a popular fable about a chicken and a pig. It goes like this:  A chicken wants to open a restaurant with a pig. The pig asks what they would serve, and the chicken says, “Ham and eggs, of course.” The pig replies, “No thanks. You might be involved, but I would be committed.” The story is a light-hearted illustration of the difference between involvement and commitment. The chicken’s involvement requires giving up the eggs it lays. The pig’s commitment requires giving its life to provide the ham.

Some employers classify their employees as those who are compliant and those who are committed. Compliant people are those who do what is expected or asked of them, but little more. They seldom take work home, nor will they willingly work extra hours or stray outside of their job descriptions. They are dependable, but not particularly loyal to or passionate about their work. Committed employees, on the other hand, are on fire for their profession and organization. They constantly think of new ways to excel at what they do in order to further the mission of the company. They work extra hours, often without being asked, and readily fill in wherever needed. They are loyal and zealous.

The difference between involvement and commitment is of sacrificial proportion. Both are important and require a measure of sacrifice, but differ in the degree of sacrifice offered. The first sentence in passage from John reminds me of the chicken. To love another requires a sacrifice – giving up something of value to us to serve someone else. A loving sacrifice could be donating one’s time to serve at a soup kitchen. The second sentence from John makes me think of the pig – giving up one’s life in service to another. Of course, giving up one’s life could mean dying for a cause, as a soldier might do for his or her country. It can also mean dedicating one’s life to a cause, as in the case of Mother Teresa. Either way, committed persons give up significant rights to the course of their own lives in order to serve a higher purpose. It is easy for me to list a number of areas where I am involved. It is much more difficult, however, to show where I am truly committed. In the fable of the Chicken and the Pig, both animals provide necessary resources for ham and eggs. What the chicken provides, however, is available in an ongoing way that does not require the chicken’s life. The pig, on the other hand, can only provide its contribution to breakfast one time. John’s passage tells us there is need for both involved and committed Christians in the service of Christ.

Come home to church this Sunday. Be involved, or be committed – but be there.

Greg Hildenbrand

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A Street Prophet

Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? James 2:5

The main campus of our church is in the heart of downtown Lawrence, Kansas. There are a number of services for homeless and/or struggling persons in the vicinity, so we often have a diverse mix of people in worship. Several years ago, a man wandered into the sanctuary, stood in front of me as I led music, and insisted that we sing “Amazing Grace.” The man’s clothes were dirty, his hair unkempt, and he had blood oozing from an untreated cut on his arm. By his odor and mannerisms, he had been drinking. I asked him to take a seat while I finished the song set. He waited until I was able to take him to a room outside the sanctuary, where he and I sang “Amazing Grace.” He wept, singing through his tears, and I wondered what hell he had stumbled through to get to this point. I wondered how strongly he felt the cleansing presence of the Holy Spirit as we sang. When we finished, it was time for me to return to the service. His unfettered and determined worship blessed me. Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me; I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.

Another man has been attending Life worship, lately, who reminds me of the person I just described. His clothes are filthy and torn, he does not smell very good, and his hair and beard have grown wild. He is friendly, however, and always eager to talk, even though a speech impediment makes it difficult to understand his words. One thing is clear, however – he quotes scripture. There is no small talk with this man. He walks up to a person, quotes scripture, and then explains what it means. I call him the Street Prophet, but not in a derogatory way. He simply looks like he is from the street, and he talks as I imagine prophets of old spoke – completely focused on the Word of God.

Last week, this man quoted one of the love passages from Scripture and explained that love is not an emotion, but that true love expresses in action. The concept of love as a verb, as opposed to a feeling, is one that is near and dear to my heart. To hear the concept articulated by a street prophet gave me pause. Yet, the author of the Epistle of James tells us that God chose the poor to be rich in faith. The fact that many of us try to avoid those who are different from us does not change their status with God. If Jesus returned today, would he come as a middle-class, white American like me, or as a street prophet? I strongly and humbly suspect the latter.

Come home to church this Sunday. There is no predicting how you might be blessed.

Greg Hildenbrand

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