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Posts Tagged ‘negative traits’

Life Notes

Saints-in-Waiting

To the church that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 1:2-3

Paul, in his letter to the church at Corinth, says its members are “called to be saints.” The church today refers to members who have passed from this life as saints. The Catholic Church has a formal process by which persons may be awarded “sainthood” after their death. Regardless of the methodology, I have a recent experience with a mostly regular guy receiving sainthood – my brother.

Regular readers of Life Notes know that I lost my brother, Wade, about a month ago. By most accounts, Wade was a pretty regular guy. He had a typical mix of good and annoying qualities. He had close friends. He worked for a living, loved his children and grandchildren, and he valued his family – including his extended family – above all. Still, most people would have considered Wade a “good old boy,” not a saint. Had I called my brother a saint, he would have scoffed, much preferring the “good old boy” title.

Those speaking at his memorial service, however, showered Wade with praise, and appropriately so. He was a close friend and confidant to many; he cared about the marginalized of society; he was generous to a fault. With a unique sense of humor, he was quick to put those around him at ease. Listening to the many who spoke about my brother, one might think he walked on water, which he decidedly did not do. Wade was very human, with all the accompanying disappointments and frailties. Still, I have seen this magical transformation – from sinner to saint – occur repeatedly. Apparently, all a person must do to attain sainthood is to die.

Why is it that we remember people more positively when we are no longer in close, physical proximity to them? Once loved ones are gone, an outsider might believe we worshipped the ground they walked on – something far from the truth in most cases. Numerous artists died penniless, only to have their works worth millions after their death. Coincidence? I doubt it. Sins are quickly forgiven, once we know they cannot be repeated. In addition, we are quick to value that which is no longer readily available to us. Ultimately, I think we are all saints-in-waiting. Our good and true selves cannot always shine through our earthly failings, at least not until the earth falls off of us. It is not easy to live up to the expectations of ourselves, let alone those of others. The good in each of us is so much more apparent when there is no less-than-good competing with it. This is not to diminish sainthood in any way. It is deserved – for my brother and the other saints. An oft- forgotten requirement for saints, however, is to first be human.

Come home to church this Sunday. Let your inner saint shine through!

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Obedient Service

Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? Romans 6:16

Faith without works is not faith at all, but a simple lack of obedience to God. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Slavery has a long and horrendous shadow. Although legalized slavery ended in the United States 150 years ago, traces of its oppression linger. Even today, we know of entire groups of people enslaved to others. Slavery is about property and property rights. When someone is a slave, another person owns him or her, as one owns a piece of property. Presumably, the owner of property can do whatever the owner wants with his or her possession, without regard to the impact on the possession itself. A slave’s sole purpose is obedience to the master.

One of the recurring realities referenced in Scripture has to do with slaves and their masters. Some interpret these references to imply that God approves of slavery. I do not believe that is the case. Slavery was, and continues to be, a reality. That slaves and masters are referenced in the Bible is no more affirming than the references to kings and tyrants – they were common elements of the landscape of the times.

Slavery is evil when one is enslaved to another of the same nature, particularly when the master does not have the best interest of the servant at heart. In a sense, employees are slaves to their bosses, in that they are expected to be obedient to the mandates of the boss. The fact that an employee can walk away from an oppressive employer, however, makes that relationship significantly different. The concept of slavery takes on a completely different nature when one willingly becomes a slave to a superior being, such as becoming a slave to God. Paul tells the Romans that we are slaves to whomever we obey.

Jesus was a slave to God, obedient even to death on a cross. Although that act of service brought new life to us, the act itself was one of obedience to God. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a theologist of the last century, wrote that true faith requires acts of service because faith calls us to obedience to God, and God calls us to acts of service. A vibrant faith leads us to willingly enslave ourselves to God. Service is not something we do for the less fortunate because they are less fortunate, but something we do out of obedience to our master. In the words of Bob Dylan, “You gotta serve somebody.” The foundational questions are: Who is your master? and Whom do you serve?

Come home to church this Sunday.

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Do Not Steal

You shall not steal. Exodus 20:15
He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer; but you are making it a den of robbers.’” Matthew 21:13

The eighth of the Ten Commandments, like the sixth and seventh, is straightforward: Do not steal. The common interpretation is that we are not to take what belongs to someone else. While I do not deny it is wrong to steal from another, there are instances that give me pause. The first such instance occurs in a life-or-death situation, when taking something from someone else without his or her permission will help. For example, if my children were starving and I had no resources to acquire food for them, I would steal to preserve their lives. Although this is an unlikely situation, it is an example where I believe the circumstance warrants theft.

A more common, but related situation occurs when people are starving in other countries. Does their right to life override my right to decide the fate of that which I possess? If I have sufficient resources to end the starvation of another, is it stealing for someone to take those resources from me and give them to the other? Is it a form of theft for me to hoard resources well beyond my need when others are in desperate need of those same resources? These are difficult faith questions, and stealing is a faith issue. For the thief, taking what belongs to another shows a lack of faith that God will provide for his or her needs. However, I believe it is equally faithless for those with much not to share their abundance with those in need. Indeed, inspiring people to share is a basic way that God provides for the poor and needy. The faith issue for the richly blessed among us manifests in our decisions about sharing our gifts. If we are miserly in our giving to others, our faith is likely small.

Finally, the story of the moneychangers illustrates another interesting area of theft, one that sends Jesus into a rage in the Temple. The moneychangers and other vendors exchanged currencies and sold sacrificial animals for worshippers. The problem was that they marked their prices up so high they were essentially stealing from those who came to the Temple to worship. Jesus felt this was unacceptable and drove the moneychangers out. Imagine what Jesus would do when buying popcorn and a soft drink at a movie theater today. Our commandment not to steal goes beyond just taking something belonging to another. The commandment requires consideration about taking more than our share, as well as giving less than we can comfortably give.

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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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