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Posts Tagged ‘good listener’

Christmas in July 

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

–Luke 1:47-49

Tonight I hear a faint and lovely voice drifting through my home, accompanied by a guitar. There is an angel in my daughter’s room, singing. I never would have heard her, had I not been sitting in silence waiting for a blessing. I would like to get closer, but I find such blessings to be finicky – like seeing a doe in the front yard and wanting to get a closer look, but knowing it will run away as I approach. It will run from fear of my intentions, and only the white fluff of its tail disappearing into the woods will be visible before I have the opportunity to explain. I mean it no harm; I only desire to be blessed by its presence. Tonight, I wish to listen to the blessing of the angel without scaring it away.

I recognize the shyness of angels, because I, too, was shy when I was young and vulnerable. You see, I needed to sing. Something inside of me regularly struggled for release, and its best exit was through song. But I could only purge effectively in private. The invasion of another into my holy space made the magic of the moment disappear. I could not bear being judged in the process of becoming whole. The moment I caught wind of my mother on the stair, the music stopped. And I know it broke her heart.

My soul, magnifies the Lord!

The song of this angel is one I wrote, based on The Magnificat – Mary’s song of praise from the gospel of Luke. A Christmas song in July. A song I wrote to bless others, now returns to bless me! I want to sing along, but I fear the music will stop.

And my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior, for God looked with favor on me. 

God is looking with favor on me right now. The inspiring words and music are returning to me through the voice of an angel. Oh, how I want to approach – but how to do it without making my presence known? I know it is safest to stay put and listen more intently. I find that to be the way with spiritual blessings in my life. They need space, privacy, and focus to manifest, and I must be attentive in order to receive it. Angels do not come to me with loud trumpets and raised voices as they seem to have done in biblical times. I hear them when I am silent, and when I listen for them. Shhh! The angel is singing again. Forgive me, but I need to stop typing and listen a little longer…

God raised this lowly servant high…and holy, holy, holy is the name of God!

Come home to church this Sunday. Maybe an angel is waiting to bless you there.

Greg Hildenbrand

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 Compassionate Emptiness

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross. Philippians 2:5-8

 Most days, my life is very full. I wake up early, eat breakfast, and read the newspaper. I drive to work and enter a whirlwind of meetings, phone calls, emails and, well, work. In the late afternoon, I drive home, where there is yet more to be done. Evenings go by in a flash until I can no longer hold my eyes open. I fall into bed, exhausted. Many of the people I know feel the same way. With such full lives, how can we make room for anything beyond the urgent, pressing demands of the moment? Unfortunately, many things of critical importance will not demand our attention, such as spending quality time, in sufficient quantities, with our children and our spouses. Spirit-building activities like spending time with God in prayer, contemplating scripture, and immersing ourselves in silence, are among the common casualties to a busy life. That which seems urgent will crowd out that which is truly important, unless we are intentional about our priorities. We may not realize what is of greatest value in our lives until we find ourselves in crisis.

Even when we make time for others, we are often so distracted that we are never actually present with them. When our minds are occupied by reports to write, phone calls to return, and the image we present to others, we are unable to fully attend to the emotional needs of those most important to us. We may hear the words they say, yet never catch the feelings behind the words. If my cup is already full, how do I make time for others? How do I put myself in a position for God to speak to, or to influence me? To truly listen to another means I am willing to be influenced, willing to allow my mind to be changed. If we cannot sufficiently empty our minds to allow new ideas and insights to enter, we close ourselves off from being influenced, improved, or blessed by others. At the same time, we deprive others of the opportunity to be blessed by us.

I first heard the term Compassionate Emptiness in a class on Servant Leadership. The context was that we must empty ourselves of all distractions, worries, and thoughts in order to be fully attentive to, and to understand what is on the mind or heart of another. That type of emptiness is compassionate because others desire and deserve our full attention. In the context of our relationship to God, we must empty ourselves for God’s love and compassion to enter us. Either way, emptiness is a prerequisite for compassion.

Come home to church this Sunday. Empty yourself and be filled!

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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

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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

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Life Notes—January 5, 2012

“Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”  John 12:22-23

I know this will surprise no one, but I am not a perfect person.  In fact, there are some things about the way I am that I absolutely abhor. I weigh too much. I do not get enough exercise. I eat too much, too often and too many unhealthy foods.  I am not a good listener—I try to finish other’s sentences and, too often, am formulating a response before they have finished speaking.  I am quick to judge, but stubbornly defensive when judgment falls on me.  This is not a complete list of my failings, but you get the picture.  And what do these negative traits have in common?  They are all my fault. The good news is, because they are my responsibility, I can do something about them. They all result from a lack of focus on something of greater importance. 

With the New Year many of us make resolutions.  We visualize and verbalize the differences we want to manifest in our lives, and we commit to making this be the year we lose that weight or we repair that relationship or we become more faithful in our spiritual life.  And, more often than not, we fail—sometimes miserably and quickly. 

I believe the scripture passage above holds one of the keys to my failed attempts at change; and maybe to yours, too.  In order to achieve something new, we must let something else die.  A grain of wheat, in order to grow into what it was designed to become, must first give up its current form—to be laid in the earth and “die,” before it can move to its next stage of growth—a live, proud stock of wheat that will produce many offspring to carry its “wheatiness” into the future.  Likewise, for me to give up interrupting others, I must first give up my obsession to be heard before I’ve given another the opportunity to be heard and understood.  If I am to change my eating habits I must take a longer-term look at what and how much I eat.  Rather than seeking quick gratification I need to first consider how my body will respond to what I am about to feed it.  Part of what has become me must die before something new can take its place. 

I would like to grow into a better version of myself in 2012, but I cannot be recreated if I stubbornly hold to the way I am today. And neither can a grain of wheat.  And neither can you.  True, we are loved the way we are, but we are also called to ever greater states of being.  May this be the year we let go of the old so the new can flourish! 

Life worship begins at 10:00 AM in Brady Hall, downtown.  Traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the downtown sanctuary.  Contemporary worship at the west campus begins at 9:00 and 11:00.  

Come home to church this Sunday.  What part of you should die in 2012?

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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