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Posts Tagged ‘wisdom tales’

Finding Grace in an Imperfect World

Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. –Hebrews 4:16

Finding Grace Cover jpg

“We live in an imperfect world. Movies, television shows, and novels inspire high expectations for life, but reality seldom flows like a well-written script. Endings are not always happy. Loose ends are not always tied up. While most people believe in a God, many have difficulty applying that belief.”

These thoughts are from the Introduction of my just-published book, Finding Grace in an Imperfect World. It is a collection of Life Notes and songs I have written and organized into book format. There are 10 chapters that provide fodder for extensive contemplation of Scripture, suffering and healing, love, truth, mortality, faith and doubt, sin, grace, prayer, and irony. Finding Grace contains reflections on my attempts to make sense of Scripture and religious practices in the context of the world in which we live. The task is challenging, and this book will not provide easy answers. It is my belief, however, that we do not need answers so much as we need guidance in how to go about finding God right here and right now, regardless of where we may be – physically, mentally, or spiritually. It is my prayer that this collection of reflections about my journey will help others on their journey and, ultimately, draw us all into a closer relationship with God. There can be no more effective tonic for the ills of our world than for each of us to develop a closer relationship to our God

For those in or around Lawrence, Kansas, the book is available in the downtown office of the First United Methodist Church. Finding Grace in an Imperfect World is also available for order from my website, http://www.ContemplatingGrace.Com, or through Amazon and other popular media outlets. A CD of the songs referenced in the book is also available at the church office, through my website, Amazon, and iTunes.

May you find grace wherever you earnestly seek it!

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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 Notes—May 23, 2013 

“Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.  Mark 10:15-16

I recently completed a virtual class on The Fundamentals of Servant Leadership.  Our deceptively wise class facilitator illustrated principles with stories from her life experiences.  One session she relayed an encounter with her late son, who had inherent challenges making independent living difficult.  On one visit, as she was leaving, her son wanted to give her five dollars and a few cans of food.  She knew her son needed both more than she did, but he insisted she accept his gifts.  She reluctantly accepted the money, but not the food.  She told us if she had it to do over she would take both gifts.  Not because she needed them, but because her son had a need to give them to her.  And she regrets not graciously accepting what he desired to give.

Our facilitator used this story to illustrate the relative power aspect in giving and receiving.  The giver, by offering something of value they currently have in their position, is in a relative power position over the recipient.  The receiver, by accepting the gift of another, must first accept the relatively lower power position in order to receive.  This observation hit me hard because I am a reluctant receiver of gifts.  I tell myself I have more than I need, so few people have something I need more than they.  Could it be that I am actually refusing to accept the ‘lower’ position of receiver? If so I miss the point, as well as the blessing. Because giving and receiving isn’t just about ‘things’ needed. It’s also about love. And about power. And about selflessness and selfishness.

To receive Christ’s gift of new life we must first accept the gift, knowing we could never earn it, and prostrate ourselves before our Lord and Savior, willingly accepting a relative power position lower than his.  When we refuse the gifts of others, or when we judge those gifts only in terms of material need, we may miss the essence of the gift.  Often we prefer the gifts we give to be anonymous.  For even to receive an acknowledgment is to receive something in return, thus a reduction in power relative to the other person.  But if we have given a gift and allowed the recipient to give nothing in return, what outlet do they have for returning or even acknowledging the blessing?  Wanting to bless others without being willing to be blessed in return is ultimately a selfish act.

Tom’s sermon downtown is “Boast in Our Suffering?” based on Romans 5:1-11.  Life worship is at 10:00 in Brady Hall, with traditional worship at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Mitch begins a new “Master Peace” sermon series at the west campus, where worship is at 9 and 11. His sermon title is “A Moment’s Peace,” based on Mark 1:32-39.

Come home to church this Sunday.  You may find something to receive…

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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Life Notes—October 4, 2012 

“All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.”  2 Timothy 3:16-17 

There are several old wisdom tales from various traditions that make reference to a finger pointing at the moon.  The story goes something like this: I have experienced the moon and you wish to have that experience, too.  So I point to the moon to help you find it and, thus, experience it.  The finger I use to point to the moon for you is not the moon, nor are any words I use to describe the moon.  To experience the moon you must find and experience it for yourself.  The most I can do is try to point you in the right direction.

Many of us for many centuries have sought our Creator.  We have believed in and experienced a power and a life that transcends what we see, hear, taste, touch and feel on earth.  We have experienced things that are inexplicable by the laws of science as we know them, and we call them miracles and want to know their source.  We long for assurance that this life is not all there is—that when we breathe our last breath on earth that, somehow, our essence will live on.  We see the chronically ill and downtrodden, the social misfits, the impoverished and the hungry and we want to believe there is hope for a better life for them, if not here and now, then somewhere and sometime.

In our Christian tradition, scripture is like a finger pointing to God.  It was written by human beings who were inspired by God from their own experience, to help lead us to our own experience of God.  God is not the scripture, nor was scripture dictated by God and transcribed by unthinking scribes.  Scripture is intended to make us think, to help us contemplate our life experiences in light of the experiences of others.  It helps provide context for the ups and downs of life, and helps us understand that which has permanence and that which is transitory.  It tells the story of others’ experiences of God.

In the Methodist tradition, the message of scripture is given context by reason, experience and tradition, each serving as another finger pointing to God, each with a unique and vital perspective—informing us, inviting us, calling to us.  God is not the finger, nor is God scripture, reason, experience or tradition.  But when we hungrily consider where they point, with prayerful contemplation, we are led to experience the One Living God, the Source of our being, the One in whom we live and move and have our being.

Communion will be served at all services this Sunday. Mitch is preaching downtown where Life worship is at 10:00 AM in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00.  Tom will be preaching at the west campus where worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.

Come home to church this Sunday.  Come see where the finger leads you.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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