Posts Tagged ‘intelligence’

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As Stupid Does

Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. 1 Corinthians 3:18-19a

There is a verbal exchange that recurs several times in the movie, Forrest Gump. A character asks Forrest, “Are you stupid or something?” Forrest’s immediate and rote response is, “Stupid is as stupid does.” Forrest’s character is one with a very low IQ and, at least by common standards, would be considered marginally functional, at least intellectually. His mother taught him the saying as a defense against those who would imply that he was different or less worthy of love and kindness than anyone else was. Like many of Forrest Gump’s sayings, one wonders if he grasps the depth of the statement. I consider myself relatively intelligent, but I have spent much time pondering some of his one-liners. Indeed, that is part of the charm of the movie. There is no doubt that Forrest Gump, while a fictional character, is of low intelligence; but he is also of high understanding.

The saying, “Stupid is as stupid does,” is a variation of similar sayings in other works of fiction like, “Handsome is as handsome does,” or “Beauty is as beauty does.” The underlying theme is that we find real truth or beauty beneath the surface, and often times what is underneath is the opposite of the outside appearance. Stupid is not the one who appears stupid, but the one who chooses to act stupidly. In the movie, many of his classmates, soldiers, and other townsfolk act very stupidly.

Forrest Gump has an uncanny ability to cut to the heart of an issue. He has no intellectual capacity to waste on superfluous window-dressing. Forrest has a handle on what is important in life and keeps his focus on those things: family, friends, home. That limited and laser-like focus is what makes a person like Forrest, who appears stupid, to actually be deceivingly perceptive and wise. It also makes him a heck of a Ping-Pong player.

In his first letter to the church at Corinth, Paul labels earthly wisdom as foolishness to God. When we participate in wrongdoing – either as an active participant or as a passive bystander – we act foolishly. When we refuse to act contrary to others out of fear of what those others might do to or think about us, we are fools in God’s eyes. God’s instruction to us is unambiguous, at least in terms of how we are to treat others. Love, respect, and caring for needs – especially for the sick, unfortunate, and social outcasts – is our standard. Even Forrest Gump – low IQ and all – understood those directives perfectly.

Come home to church this Sunday. Faithful is as faithful does.

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Handling Rattlesnakes 

All things are lawful for me, but not all things are beneficial. 1 Corinthians 6:1a

Once upon a time, a man climbed to the top of a tall mountain. As he was admiring the view in the cold, thin air, he noticed a rattlesnake shivering at his feet. The snake said, “Please, sir, carry me back down the mountain with you. I am cold-blooded and cannot move to go down myself. I will die if you leave me here.” The man replied, “You are a rattlesnake. If I touch you, you will bite me and I will die.” The rattlesnake responded, “No, I will be grateful to you for saving my life, and I will not bite you. When we get to the bottom, I will go away in peace.” The man thought about it for a time, reached down for the snake, placed it inside his jacket, and started down the mountain. Upon arriving at the bottom, he reached inside his coat for the snake, and the snake bit him. Through his pain the man cried out, “You promised you would not bite me! I saved your life, so now you take mine?” The snake replied as it slithered away, “Well, you knew I was a rattlesnake when you picked me up.”

Snake handling, as a demonstration of faith, dates back for centuries. In February of this year, Pentecostal pastor Jamie Coots, died of – you guessed it – a bite from a rattlesnake he was handling as part of a worship service. It is one thing to believe God will be with us as we go through our lives, but it is an entirely different matter to believe God will protect us from all of our precarious choices. I have no doubt God has my spirit safely in hand; but I am somewhat less assured of God’s protection over my earthly body – particularly when I use my God-given free will to take perilous chances.

Obviously, everyone makes bad decisions at times. We all have different levels of risk tolerance, and most of us engage in a number of activities that may have negative consequences. Heck, getting out of bed in the morning has some risk – as does staying in bed. We weigh our risk-tolerance against our need for a new experience, or a familiar experience, or to attempt to avoid an undesirable experience. In fact, we all have rattlesnakes of some sort we choose to live with – risky hobbies, abusive relationships, substance abuse, driving too fast. Sometimes we believe we have no better options, and that is where our lack of faith plays a key role. We grab whatever our familiar rattlesnake is and hold on for fear of the alternative, knowing the snake we hold can kill us.

The fact is that we always have options. We can exercise our free will in many different ways and with many different levels of risk. The apostle Paul, writing to the church at Corinth, noted that all things were permissible for him – meaning nothing he did would separate him from God – but not all things were beneficial to him. In a similar way, when Jesus was tempted by the devil, as recorded in Matthew 4, he was told to throw himself off a cliff because God would surely save him. Jesus’ response was that we are not to put our God to tests like that. If it was true for Jesus, how much more true is it for us today? We are to live our lives in a joyful balance between adventure and common sense. I do not believe God intends our final words on earth to be, “Watch this!”

Come home to church this Sunday. It may help keep the snakes at bay…

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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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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 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 Notes—September 26, 2013 

  “O simple ones, learn prudence; acquire intelligence, you who lack it.”  Proverbs 8:5

“Oh, I’m a failure because I haven’t got a brain.”  The Scarecrow

Dorothy and Toto are traveling the yellow brick road when they come to an intersection.  As they contemplate the best road to take, a scarecrow hanging in a field suggests one route, and then another.  He cannot make up his mind which road is best. Dorothy tells him that is not helpful. The scarecrow replies, “That’s the trouble: I can’t make up my mind.  I haven’t got a brain.”  Of course, the scarecrow’s dilemma is not that he lacks a brain.  His problem is a lack of confidence in the brain he has.  He feels poorly equipped to deal with the challenges of life.  When decision-time arrives, he cannot decide whether to go right or left.  Many of us have a similar problem.  We have trouble making decisions and sometimes attribute our indecisiveness to a lack of intelligence.

I am fortunate to know many intelligent people, only some of whom have college degrees.  We all know people who are very smart about some things, and unbelievably dumb about other things.  IQ tests, college entrance exams, and advanced degrees reflect certain capacities to learn, but do they equate to intelligence?  Obviously, they do not.  Intelligence is situational.  The mental skills required to navigate the various challenges of life are different, based on the challenge at hand.  Not everyone receives every type of mental ability.  Mathematics comes easily to some and is the worst nightmare for others.  Personally, I have very little understanding of mechanical creations like cars and motors.  I have done many dumb things trying to fix a mower or work on my car.  However, it is not because I lack a brain.  I lack a type of intelligence and need the help of others.

The writer of Proverbs says that those who lack intelligence should acquire it.  We can acquire intelligence by learning more.  We can also acquire intelligence by borrowing it from others, like when we ask for help.  The Wizard assures the Scarecrow others have no more brains than he has.  Indeed, the Scarecrow is arguably the most creative and resourceful thinker in Dorothy’s group.  They are part of a community with diverse talents and intelligences.  Their community works together to overcome the various forms of wickedness the witch puts before them.  When we become active in a church, we join a community.  We no longer need to face our challenges alone.  Where we are dumb, others will be smart.  Dorothy’s community did not let wickedness stand between her and home.  Together, in community, we meet every challenge more capably.

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.  Join your brain with a community of faith.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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Life Notes—April 25, 2013 

“Do not deceive yourselves.  If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise.  For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.”  I Corinthians 3:18-19a

My godson was confirmed into the United Methodist church last weekend.  I had the honor of serving as his mentor through the process.  Confirmation occurs at about age 13 and involves several months of study about the church, its history and practices, and concludes with induction into full membership in the church.  As his mentor I was given the opportunity to say a few words about him to those present at the confirmation service, as well as to pass along some thoughts specifically for him. My godson has a highly developed intellect for his age and is very analytical.  He is well beyond his years in activities like chess and mathematics. I read the scripture above and told him his intellect would serve him well, but warned that earthly intelligence will only carry him so far.  In fact, it can be downright foolishness.  Earthly intelligence focuses on what can be physically observed, leaving the unknown and unknowable largely unaccounted for.  To fully develop our intellect requires faith, because faith opens our eyes to realities beyond physical observation.  Intellect without faith is shallow, and faith without intellect is weak.  We need both to begin to reach our potential, and while he will naturally be drawn to intellectual pursuits, he (like most of us) will need to work to develop his faith in a similar manner.  Just as our two eyes, working together, can perceive depth in our field of vision that one eye alone cannot, so our intellect and faith, working together, inform our life experience in both earthly and spiritual ways.  In fact, intellect and faith may find their highest expressions in each other.

I sought a visual reminder of what I most wanted him to remember of his confirmation—some common artifact that would help his recall.  I shared it with him that night, as I share it with you today.  That reminder is the cross.  The cross consists of two elements—a horizontal crossbeam and a vertical post.  The horizontal beam can represent our intellect.  It stretches to the east and west and represents our knowledge of this world.  The vertical represents our faith, a connection between earth and heaven, the known and the unknown.  Where the vertical and horizontal meet, where intellect intersects with faith, is where wisdom begins.  That is where I pray my godson will reside.  It is where I pray we all will reside.  And it is exactly where we meet Jesus on the cross.

Tom preaches downtown about “The Power of a Single Life,” based on II Corinthians 6:3-13.  Life worship is at 10:00 in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00.  Mitch’s sermon at the west campus, where worship is at 9:00 and 11:00, is “What God Has Made Clean,” based on Acts 11:1-18.

Come home to church this Sunday.  We can help grow your faith.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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