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Posts Tagged ‘cosmic justice’

Life Notes

Where Are You?

They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?”  Genesis 3:8-9

After eating the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve were so ashamed they tried to hide from God. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve had unfettered access to and a direct relationship with God. When they ate the fruit of that tree, which God had prohibited, Adam and Eve committed what today we call the Original Sin. It was the first recorded act of direct defiance of God’s will. They were banished from paradise and became self-conscious beings – conscious of themselves as distinct from others.

Intellectually, we know God is omnipotent – all-knowing – and omnipresent – present everywhere – so there is no logical way for us to hide from God. Even so, in the Genesis story, God calls out to Adam and Eve, “Where are you?” While Christians disagree about the factual nature of the stories of the Garden of Eden and Original Sin, the recorded experiences are intriguing and enlightening. Today, humankind remains a self-conscious species. We go to great lengths to display our individuality, emphasizing that which sets us apart and deemphasizing that which we share in common.

I believe the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is an allegory, recorded to help us understand our human condition. Our perception is that we are separate beings – independent from each other and independent from God. That perception of separation is an illusion, and that illusion is the source of most, if not all of our suffering. When we understand we are interconnected, we realize we are our brother’s (and sister’s) keeper. We get serious about solving society’s problems once we recognize them as our issues and not someone else’s problem. Intolerable conditions like starvation, homelessness, war, and many preventable illnesses will be eradicated once we take responsibility for the care of our neighbors, as we do for ourselves.

In the Garden, Adam and Eve eat of the fruit of separation and deny their communion with God by hiding. Today, we convince ourselves the universe is here to serve us, and we act accordingly. God, desiring our return to fellowship, calls out “Where are you?” Intuitively, we know God has plans for our lives that are inconsistent with our desires. We know God specializes in uncomfortable and insecure paths. Therefore, we hide by pretending not to hear. Obviously, we cannot hide from God, but we do have the free will to ignore God. Either way, we perpetuate the illusion of separation – separation from God and separation from each other. God’s love perpetually calls us back to unity.

Come home to church this Sunday. God is calling, “Where are you?”

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Christian Values

For learning about wisdom and instruction, for understanding words of insight, for gaining instruction in wise dealing, righteousness, justice, and equity; to teach shrewdness to the simple, knowledge and prudence to the young – let the wise also hear and gain in learning, and the discerning acquire skill, to understand a proverb and a figure, the words of the wise and their riddles. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. Proverbs 1:2-7

What does it mean to be a Christian? What characteristics distinguish a follower of Christ from the rest of the world? The Bible is full of instruction, but what recurring themes are found in Scripture as a whole? Ben MacConnell, of the Direct Action & Research Training Center (www.thedartcenter.org), asked similar questions, which led to a research project on Christian values. He was particularly interested in the prevalence of the principle of justice in Scripture, but his work considered and compared 20 different ideals commonly associated with Christianity. MacConnell chose specific values, along with their relevant synonyms and antonyms, and searched for their frequency of use throughout Scripture. He summarized his findings in this word cloud, where the values found most frequently are in the larger fonts:

Christian ValuesThe top five Christian values, according to this research, are love, justice, service, peace, and happiness. With the vast variety of instruction provided in Scripture, I find this list insightful. Many different authors, from diverse times, cultures, and backgrounds, contributed to writing the texts of the Bible. Attempting to wrap one’s mind around a central message can be challenging.

Values are guides for action. They are perhaps most useful when expressed as questions by which we measure our words, thoughts, and activities. For example, does what I am about to do reflect my love for others? Will my work make life more just for another? Whom will I serve by following through with my intentions – what persons will benefit? Am I increasing peace in the world and within others or destabilizing it? Do my actions increase the happiness of those around me? Assessing our work with value questions helps to assure we are aiding in the ways we intend, and helps keep us from doing harm in ways we may not be aware of otherwise.

Studying the most commonly mentioned character values in Scripture is useful in determining how best to act like a Christian. One who studies Scripture and seeks to emulate its guidance cannot overlook these five characteristics. In future Life Notes, I will focus each of these five, individually, and explore them further. These ideals are a good starting point, developmentally, for anyone seeking recognition as a Christian.

Come home to church this Sunday. Learning Christian values will help us live them.

Greg Hildenbrand, ContemplatingGrace.Com

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 Poor Stewardship

Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. Ezekiel 34:2a-4

I have found myself in positions of stewardship since 6th grade, when I was the Chief Crossing Guard for my school. My responsibility was to assign a trained crossing guard to each intersection around the school before and after classes. In the days before paid, adult crossing guards, the 6th grade class shepherded the younger children safely across the streets. Being appointed the Chief crossing guard was an honor of sorts, I suppose, but it seemed a lot of responsibility at the time.

A shepherd stewards the sheep in his or her care – leading them to food and water, keeping them safe from predators, healing their wounds, and reuniting them with the flock when they wander away. Near the end of the Gospel of John, Jesus tells Peter that those who love him (Jesus) will feed his sheep. Good stewards take their responsibility seriously, understanding it to be a holy calling. There are numerous examples of solid, sacrificial stewards in our history: Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, and Florence Nightingale to name a few. They used the power, authority, gifts, and talents available to them for a higher purpose – lifting others up – and not allowing the allure of personal gain to deflect them from their calling.

The writer of the book of Ezekiel proclaimed God’s judgment on the poor stewards of his day, calling them shepherds who used their sheep for personal gain. These were harsh words directed at the behavior of the unethical “shepherds.” Although I know there are excellent and faithful stewards in our world today, it seems the poor stewards – the ones who steal from their charges – are more likely to be glorified. News stories abound about greed in the C-Suites and Boardrooms of corporations. Many people consider an honest politician to be an oxymoron. Ministers and Elders of churches too often treat themselves as being among the needy in their care. Is this type of behavior the norm today? I do not believe it is. My point, however, is that the examples of stewardship we are most likely to find in the news are examples of poor stewardship. God calls us to be faithful stewards, using the resources available to us for the care of those in need. As in Ezekiel’s day, we are to strengthen the weak, heal the sick, and lead the strays back into the family.

Come home to church this Sunday. Find a flock to join…or a flock to tend.

 

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Delicate Honesty

So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.

Ephesians 4:25,29

Many years ago, I served as the interim director of a hospital department while recruiting took place for a permanent candidate to fill the position. One of the key supervisors in the department resigned during my tenure. Although I did not encourage her resignation, I believed the new director would have an easier time establishing him or herself without this particular supervisor in place. After she announced her resignation, a hospital executive came into my office, accused me of intentionally driving this supervisor out of the organization, and clearly let me know his opinion that I was setting the hospital back many years by my reckless actions. This exchange bothered me, as the executive was one I held in high regard. While I appreciated his direct honesty, his assessment of the situation was entirely incorrect, and his harsh approach to sharing his opinion negatively affected our relationship for many years thereafter.

In her book, Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg writes, “Communication works best when we combine appropriateness with authenticity, finding that sweet spot where opinions are not brutally honest but delicately honest.” In my work example above, the executive was authentic – he was truly frustrated and concerned with the departure of the supervisor, but he was not appropriate – he did not take the time to learn the facts prior to leveling such sharp criticism. He was honest, but in a brutal, and uncharacteristic manner.

Clearly, being truthful is important. Paul tells the people of the church in Ephesus to “speak the truth to our neighbors” because we are all interconnected. He goes on to instruct that we only say “what is useful for building up, as there is need.” That sounds like a warning against idle or hurtful talk. Finally, he writes that our words should “give grace to those who hear.” Those communication standards are much higher than most of us observe in our day-to-day speech. Repeating Sheryl Sandberg’s point, communication is most effective when we are both appropriate and authentic. Personally, I am much less careful about my words at home than at work. I believe I have my priorities reversed. While it is important to tend to what we say wherever we are and whomever we are with, the power of words magnifies around those we love. Being delicately honest is difficult, but it is a key to being an effective communicator, as well as being a loving companion.

Come home to church this Sunday.

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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Life Worship Notes—February 6, 2104 

“You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.” Exodus 20:7

Names have power. Names describe what something is and is not, and they limit the perceived essence of the named. For example, the name of the tree outside my window is River Birch. That name establishes it is not an oak, a maple, or a redbud. The name also establishes it as a tree, and not a raccoon, a daffodil, or a mountain. Names define and limit the named in ways that help it be known. When we realize that names have power, we understand that misusing a name is a misuse of power. The early Israelites asked Moses for the name of God. God’s answer, in Exodus 3:14, was “I am who I am.” The people wanted to know something about God, something that would make God more knowable; but God refused to provide a name that limited God’s nature in any way.

Some Bible versions translate this commandment as saying not to use God’s name in vain. However, I believe that translation misses the commandment’s broader meaning. We can misuse God’s name in ways that have nothing to do with cussing. For example, I believe we misuse God’s name when we overemphasize the masculine aspect of God’s nature by constantly referring to God as “He.” Certainly, the Bible is full of masculine references to God; indeed, even Jesus referred to God as Father. Given the male-dominated cultures the Bible arose from, the masculine emphasis is not surprising. However, the true nature of God certainly transcends earthly gender. Unfortunately, referring to God in male terms disenfranchises those who have unjustly suffered at the hands of cruel, abusive fathers or other men on earth. In order to reach these broken souls, we must reach out in ways that help them break their connection between God and a specific human male. My only point is that, while it may be comfortable and common to refer to God as “He,” it is a naming of God that limits God is perceived nature in a way that repels some people. Ultimately, God is not a “He” or a “She.” God is who God is.

This is not to let us off the hook for using God’s name in vain. When we make a common statement of profanity, asking God to “damn” something or someone, we are asking the source of all power in the universe to focus a curse on some object or person. Is that really our intent? Using such language is a clear misuse of the power of the name of God, and one we can only hope God will choose to ignore. Clearly, we need to use God’s name with care and reverence, both for ourselves and for others. Implying erroneous limits to God’s nature or essence, or using the power available through God’s name to the detriment of others are what the third commandment encourages us to avoid.

Come home to church this Sunday. God is calling your name.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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Life Notes—May 10, 2012

“Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”  Exodus 20:12 

When I was young I thought my parents were awesome.  They were so smart and strong always there when I needed them.  As a teenager I thought my parents were lame.  What little they knew was from another era that bore little relevance to my world.  And they were everywhere I did not want them to be.  As an adult I began to realize their knowledge wasn’t as dated as I once thought.  I also understood their presence around me protected me from much I could not see.  However, I never fully appreciated the incredible challenge of parenting until having children of my own. 

In Exodus we are told to honor our parents “so that (our) days may be long.”  This can be interpreted in at least a couple of different ways.  Long days are what the parents of many teenagers experience—arguments, petty bickering, excessive drama, late nights wondering who, what, where and when.  Cosmic justice occurs when challenging children give birth to children of their own—and the grandparents smile knowingly… 

Another interpretation is that honoring our parents is a vital component for a long and fruitful life.  Honoring the role they played in caring for us from birth to adulthood, standing up for us when no one else would, loving us at our most unlovable.  Our parents are our earthly models for God, so honoring good parenting is also honoring to God.  Both masculine and feminine traits were created from God and both are required for a healthy upbringing.  Unfortunately, not everyone has the benefit of strong mother and father figures and must seek to fill those voids elsewhere. 

This Sunday we celebrate Mother’s Day and those providing the vital feminine influences we so desperately need—the nurturing, the gentle touch, encouragement and unconditional love.  Having lost my mother some 18 months ago I will not be calling or sending a card or taking her to dinner.  But she will be near in my thoughts.  When I remember how she filled a God-ordained role in my life I rejoice in her willing sacrifice.  Her influence will be passed to my children, and to my children’s children.  There is an eternal impact to motherhood, which should come as no surprise since mothers are one of the primary vehicles through which God cares for and blesses us. 

Reverend Dennis Ackerman will preach downtown, where Life worship is at 10:00 AM in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Mitch preaches at the west campus where worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.  His sermon is “Agree to Disagree,” based on Matthew 18:14-20. 

Come home to church this Sunday.  Make your mother proud…

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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