5.28.15 Insights from Dr. Amy Oden

Dr. Amy Oden is Professor of Early Church History and Spirituality at Saint Paul School of Theology at OCU. Teaching is her calling, and she looks forward to every day with students. For 25 years, Amy has taught theology and history, pursuing scholarship in service of the church.  

I have really struggled in my life with how to witness for Jesus Christ. Do I stand on a street corner and shout dire warnings as people walk by? Make pronouncements on Facebook? Confront people about their beliefs or behaviors? Put bumper stickers on my car professing Christ? What does it look like to witness to my faith in everyday life, or as today’s GPS puts it, to “take an active part in God’s work of calling humans back to God”?

For me, it helps to keep it simple. My witness is not about a set of doctrines or pronouncements. It’s about the love of God. When I can focus on this simple (and amazing!) truth and my experience of it, then I can witness authentically through my words and deeds. Most often I do this by pointing to the ways I see God at work all around me. Every day I make a point to say, “Look! See!” to at least one other person about signs of new life, growth, fruits or gifts I see, either in them or their church or in the world. This is my witness to the love of God that fills all things, my way of “calling humans (and myself) back to God.”

For many years, I thought it was arrogant to talk about my faith–that I would be imposing it on others, or implicitly judging them by sharing my own. Now, though, I realize how many people are hungry for mercy, second chances, unconditional love and grace. To not share my witness of God’s love is to withhold spiritual food to those spiritually starving. If we don’t share our verbal witness of love, then the only voices those hungry folks will hear are the loudest ones out there who scold or scare in the name of Jesus. I call that “spiritual junk food” that offers no spiritual nutrition to sustain one’s walk with Christ. The good news of Jesus is love.

What is your experience of God’s love? How do you express it? Start here.

Return to the GPS Guide to read today’s scripture and reflection questions.

 

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5.27.15 Insights from Rev. Steven Blair

steven-blairRev. Steven Blair is the Congregational Care Pastor of Live Forward and Live Well Emotional Wellness Ministry. www.cor.org/liveforward

Jesus is criticized for eating with sinners, non-religious and nominally religious. Jesus eats with some who are wealthy, like tax collectors. Jesus eats with some who are poor and who have to resort to prostitution to pay the bills. Jesus’ response to their disapproval? There is a shepherd who finds a lost sheep. A woman finds her lost coin.

God and everyone in heaven applaud what the religious folks criticize. Going even farther, God is better off with the lost sheep and the lost coin. God is happier to have what was lost in the fold and in the pocket. You can hear the announcement “Found!” This exclamation gives joy to both shepherd and sheep.

We can choose to applaud what God is doing or we can work against it. We can act in ways that bring God joy by reaching out to sinners, non-religious, and nominally religious or we can have a life that heaven doesn’t applaud.

May the word “Found” give you both excitement and purpose!

Return to the GPS Guide to read today’s scripture and reflection questions

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5.26.15 Insights from Brandon Gregory

Brandon Gregory is a volunteer for the worship and missions teams at Church of the Resurrection. He helps lead worship at the Vibe, West, and Downtown services, and is involved with the Malawi missions team at home.

The story of Zacchaeus was one that stuck with me from childhood, and how could it not? You have a greedy little man that got elbowed out of a crowd and had to do something as ridiculous as climb a tree just to see Jesus. If you grew up in church, you remember the rhyme: a wee little man was he. But Jesus not only stopped to address this wee, greedy little man–he had specifically selected him to be his host for his visit.

Why is this? We hear these stories so often that we rarely stop to really ask why Jesus didn’t stay with contemporaries (or at least people who are generally well-liked). Two reasons.

First, Zacchaeus needed help. As a tax collector, he had wronged a lot of people, as is apparent in the crowd’s treatment of him. (How much you want to bet the crowd would have let other short men have a view of Jesus?) Jesus came for the people that needed help, and, even though we eventually realize that all of us need help, he spent the most time with the people who needed the most help. Zacchaeus had a lot to atone for, and Jesus knew it.

Second–and here’s the big one–Zacchaeus wanted help. More specifically, he wanted redemption. Notice I didn’t say righteousness–that’s part of it, but that’s not the whole of it. Righteousness is a state of being right with God. Redemption, in its basic definition, is an exchange of something with little to no value for something of far greater value. Think about when you redeem a coupon, which by itself has no value, for something of greater value. In this case, Zacchaeus wanted to trade his riches for righteousness in the form of righting his wrongs and blessing those he had wronged. He had spent his life thinking on a temporal scale, accumulating wealth, and was ready to think on an eternal scale.

(Just to be clear, redemption and righteousness come from God; but they’re not without a commitment from us, which can come with a cost. Nothing we can do, or fail to do, will cause God to love us any less, but redeeming the things of this life for things of the next requires you to give up the thing you need to redeem.)

To see that kind of redemption in our own lives, we need to first see where we need God’s help, and then seek redemption. It takes humility and resolve to admit your shortcomings–but it takes a lot more to want to turn them around into something good, whether that means admitting this fault to people you have wronged, or being a voice for the people you used to persecute, or, yes, using money you may have accumulated by being not-so-great for a greater purpose, just like Zacchaeus. The point is, to redeem for something eternal, it costs something in this life, whether that’s pride, or time and effort, or money–or all three. Zacchaeus knew this trade was worth it. Do you?

Return to the GPS Guide to read today’s scripture and reflection questions

 

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5.25.15 Insights from Donna Karlen

dkarlengpsDonna Karlen serves in Communications at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection.

“The man said, ‘The woman you put here with me …’” Ouch! You don’t see that on any Mother’s Day cards.

It certainly didn’t take long for humanity to act against God’s wishes. Followed almost instantly by turning against each other and casting blame.

But while the story of Adam and Eve outlines some of the worst in us, it also portrays the best about God. Simply put, God forgives. Adam and Eve were supposed to die if they ate the forbidden fruit. But while God is the ultimate judge, he is even more the ultimate loving parent. God so loved his created children that he couldn’t bear to lose them. He certainly disciplined them – isn’t that a part of being a loving parent? – but did not destroy them. God fully forgives because he fully loves. Want proof?

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only son.”

On this Memorial Day as I think about how Christ died for me to be forgiven, I am grateful for those who died for me to be free.

Return to the GPS Guide to read today’s scripture and reflection questions

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5.23.15 Insights from Jeff Kirby

Jeff_KirbyJeff Kirby serves as Minister of Discipleship and Men’s Ministry at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection.

I was recently trying to explain the Christian faith to a person from our community who used to consider herself a Christian but has since rejected the faith she once embraced. At one point in our kind and spirited, yet at the same time strenuous conversation, she challenged me with these words: “You Christians don’t really believe what you say you believe!” I countered, “Why do you say that?” She said, “If you Christians really believed that people outside of faith will perish, and that by your clear and confident explanation of the gospel you had the chance to save someone from a life without God, you would all do everything within your power to reach others with your message. Yet the majority of church goers I know very rarely if ever try to evangelize those of us on the outside.”

My heart sank at her words. I thought, “Either we don’t really believe the gospel to be true, or we don’t really care about the fate of those who have yet to understand and embrace our faith.” Either way, I saw her point and I confessed she was in many ways right.

When Jesus says that “the broad road leads to destruction,” do I really believe His words to be true? Are the stakes as high as He/we claim them to be? Does how I live out my faith communicate to the outside world that I trust deeply in the truth of His words? My new friend reminds me that the world is watching. How do we respond?

Return to the GPS Guide to read today’s scripture and reflection questions.

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5.22.15 Insights from Darren Lippe

Darren_LippeDarren Lippe helps facilitate Journey 101 “Loving God” classes, guides a 7th-grade Sunday school class, is a member of a small group & a men’s group, and serves on the Curriculum team.

 

Considering today’s Scripture’s discussion of the Golden Rule, I thought we might “visit” with Dave Cree of R.A.S.H. (Rapid Assessment for a Skeptical Humanity), an organization devoted to helping its clients to jump to conclusions & rush to judgment.

DL: With cynicism & criticism so prevalent in our society, it seems that your organization is quite topical. How did you get started?

D. Cree: Business IS booming; our motto is “A R.A.S.H. Is Always Spreading.” I loved the story of the diva actress who was notorious for her overbearing & prima donna behavior. During a rare introspective moment, she asked one of her writers why everyone took an instant dislike to her. The writer replied, “It just saves time.”

That got me to thinking that there has to be a market to help people to quickly categorize the motives & thoughts of those we encounter in our daily life. This immediate judgment, then, would provide instant protection from our ever being naïve or too trusting of others & would help you to never let your guard down.

DL: So you are encouraging me to immediately offer conclusive judgment on that breaking news story, or to wonder why my wife is so disrespectful as we wait for her in the van as she winds her way through the narthex, or to conclude that the only reason our teen-aged son is texting me to see if I have arrived at the track-meet is because he wants money for some food?

D. Cree: Absolutely.

DL: But what if that initial judgment isn’t accurate?

D. Cree: That’s the beauty of our “hot take.” Who cares about facts or alternative explanations? We’ve already made our conclusion & moved on.

DL: But Jesus offers us a different framework for our decision-making. At the root of His teaching is the radical idea of thinking the best of others. What if we wait for the facts on those initial news reports before rendering our judgment? What if our wife is slow to exit the narthex because she stopped to visit & encourage a friend preparing for surgery? What if our son is genuinely interested in us watching him compete in the long jump? (Okay. Maybe that last one isn’t such a good example – turns out our son was seeking cash for a Kona-Ice; so maybe a tiny bit of skepticism is healthy when dealing with those who share our DNA.)

But the danger of letting ourselves be in this constant mode of negative thinking is that it will eventually rebound on us. Our internal voice will become more self-critical, we’ll struggle to maintain relationships because every perceived slight must indicate an ominous problem, & we’ll find our lives filled with stress & unhappiness.

D. Cree: Whoa. Look at the time. I’ve got a speech to give at an Optimist Club meeting.

DL: Really?

D. Cree: You know, for $1, I can tell you if you are gullible.

DL: Good one!

Return to the GPS Guide to read today’s scripture and reflection questions

 

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5.21.15 Insights from Janelle Gregory

Janelle_GregoryJanelle Gregory serves on the Resurrection staff as a Human Resources Specialist.

Mothra-1You get Jesus talking about money, and he can be a bit overdramatic, right? I mean seriously – “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy… “ Am I the only one that pictures Mothra when you hear this? Do we need to be that paranoid about moths and vermin? Sure, I recently had a squirrel chew her way through our siding and into our drywall, but that was an easy (though slightly costly) fix.

Or what about:

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

So in order to love God, we have to hate money? Is that right? The last time I came across someone who actually hated money was… well never. We’re all in trouble.

So what’s Jesus really trying to say about money then?

I’m wondering if his modern-day version of a parable would look something like this:

Consider a can of hairspray. It’s great for keeping your style in place, your ponytail up, or your curls from falling. Nobody thinks a thing about it being a dangerous product, right? As long as you keep it out of your eyes and try not to ingest it (as if you’d like the taste), you should be perfectly safe for daily use. Hairspray isn’t something we keep in a locked cabinet.

But each can of hairspray comes with a label that says something like: CAUTION Highly flammable. Because while hairspray is great to use under normal circumstances, it can easily turn into a blowtorch when mixed with fire. Hairspray is highly flammable.

And so when we talk about money we have to know that it is also, figuratively speaking, highly flammable. If  you think of money as hairspray, consider how our sin and selfish desires are the fire.

  • When we rack up mounds of credit card debt, we’re spraying by the flame.
  • When we’re jealous of the wealth of others, we’re spraying by the flame.
  • When we would sacrifice our integrity just to get a little more dough, we’re spraying by the flame.
  • When we won’t give back to God, we’re spraying by the flame.

Is having money a sin? I don’t think so. Having money in and of itself isn’t a problem. It’s perfectly safe to have when we are living below our means, when we’re giving it to serve God’s purpose, or when we’re saving for the future. You don’t often see money causing issues under these circumstances. In fact, having money to give away can be quite the blessing!

But at the same time, we should picture money with a warning label that says: CAUTION Highly flammable. Because when you get money next to your desires for this world, you’re more than likely to get burned.

Return to the GPS Guide to read today’s scripture and reflection questions

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5.20.15 Insights from Angela LaVallie

Angela_LaVallie[1]Angela LaVallie is the Worship Logistics Program Director at Resurrection. She oversees preparing the Sanctuary for worship, supports Vibe worship and volunteers in the Student Center, provides oversight for Holy Communion at the Leawood campus, and assists with worship logistics at conferences.

 

One of the most comforting things, for me, about having friends and family I can trust, is that there’s very little urge for me to feel like I need to impress them. They already know who I am, and if I pretend to be someone I’m not, they’ll call me out on it – this helps to remind me to just be who I am.

Christ knows who I am and who I am not even better than my family and friends. If I try to sound eloquent or am dishonest in my prayers, he knows it. Trying to make myself seem impressive does nothing at all to help me in my relationship with him.

It’s especially tough to not toot our own horns when we do something good in a world where we’re encouraged to always make ourselves shine brighter than others, to be the best. When we come to Christ in prayer, it is a safe place to share anything that is on our hearts. It’s okay to tell him, “I did this great thing, and I feel really good about myself because of it.” It’s also a good opportunity to ask his guidance to overcome any pride in our good works and ask him to remind us that the good we’re doing is in his name.

In his sermon this past weekend, Pastor Adam mentioned the prayer on a shower tag that is available at The Well Bookstore: “Lord, as I enter the water to bathe, I remember my baptism. Wash me by your grace. Fill me with your Spirit. Renew my soul. I pray that I might live as your child today and honor you in all that I do.” He said that if we pray that each day in the shower, it’s easy to remember who we are and how we’re to live.

In the same way, if we make a practice of sharing our feelings about and reviewing our good deeds in prayer instead of telling others, we’ll more easily remember why we’re really loving and serving others.

Return to the GPS Guide to read today’s scripture and reflection questions.

 

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5.19.15 Insights from Rev.Glen Shoup

glen-shoupRev. Glen Shoup is the Executive Pastor of Worship and a Congregational Care pastor.

I think we trip over what Jesus is teaching/commanding in today’s reading for two reasons: we don’t really understand it and it’s hard.

We don’t understand Jesus’ command to love our brother, sister, enemy or neighbor (i.e., everyone) not because it’s so complex but rather because we tend to assume a wrong understanding as to the essence of love.  We tend to think love…and loving someone…has essentially to do with how we feel about that person.  If we love someone (we tend to think) then we must feel a certain way toward them because while no one descriptor fully captures the feelings of love, the feelings of love must include a certain profile of emotions that all of us would widely recognize as love.

The only problem with this assumption that the true essence of love is grounded in what we feel…is that it’s wrong…it’s inaccurate.

Love—at its core and essence—isn’t grounded in what we feel; it’s grounded in what we choose.  Oh to be sure, there are feelings that accompany love, but the feelings of love are like the ocean’s tide—they come in and they go out.  There are high-tide moments (or even seasons) when we feel intently the love we might have for someone else and there are low-tide moments (or even seasons) where might feel things, but what we feel is resentment or irritation or frustration…or nothing…and none of these are feelings that any of us would categorize as “love”.

Yet even in those times when we are feeling things that seem antithetical to what “love” feels like (including those times when we feel nothing)—we are still fully capable of loving.  Because Love is grounded in what we choose.  But love isn’t just any choice—it’s a very particular and specific choice.  Love is choosing to keep on choosing the other’s best interest over our own selfish interest…regardless of how we feel.

Now only God does this perfectly and without fail…but this definition of love is what it means for God to love us.  While God may very well have feelings for us as his children (Jesus seems to me to suggest this in Matthew 7:11ff), God loving us isn’t grounded in how God feels towards us—God loving us is grounded in the fact that God has forever chosen our best interest no matter what it costs God…the best image or icon of this that I know of is the crucifix.

And us loving God isn’t principally a statement of how we feel towards God, us loving God is us choosing God’s interests and God’s agenda over our own selfish interest.

Me loving my spouse, my children or my neighbor isn’t principally grounded in how I might feel about them at the moment—me loving my spouse, my children or my neighbor is about me choosing to keep on choosing their best interest over my own selfish interest.

That’s what love is; it’s a choice.  It’s the very specific choice of choosing to keep on choosing the other’s best interest over our own selfish interest…regardless of how we feel.

So hearing and living Jesus’ teaching and command to love in today’s reading is first about understanding accurately what it means to love.  And second, it’s about tackling the thing that makes choosing the other’s best interest over our own selfish interest so hard—namely our own tendency to be self-addicted.

Loving (accurately defined) is hard because I’d much rather be self-focused than other-focused (and so would you)—it’s our MO as human beings.  And in all my years I’ve only found one ongoing treatment for my tendency to be a self- oholoic and that’s daily (sometimes moment-by-moment) surrendering to the power and grace of God.

All I can say with certainty is what I’ve found in my own life and that’s this: there’s never been one time when I’ve been tempted to choose myself over the other person when I’ve asked God to give me the strength to choose the other over myself when God has not faithfully done that…which is to say everytime I’ve asked God to help me love—He has.  Now there have been plenty of times when I’ve been tempted to choose myself over the other’s best interest and I’ve had no interest in asking God to help me—I’ve just gone ahead and not loved and chosen selfishness instead…but never once have I asked God to help me love (choose the other’s best interest over my own selfish interest) when God has not faithfully done it…it just comes down to whether I want to let God do for me what I can’t do for myself…or not.

So yes, Jesus’ teaching and command to love is oft misunderstood and hard—but it doesn’t have to be that way.  It doesn’t have to be that way for me, for you, or for anybody—and that’s good news.  That’s freeing news. That’s gospel news.

 

Return to the GPS Guide to read today’s scripture and reflection questions

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05.18.15 Insights from Chris Holliday

Chris_HollidayGPS[1]Rev. Chris Holliday serves as the associate minister at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection West.

“Happy Are Those Whose Cars Break Down in the Wilderness”

During the summers and falls of my undergraduate university years, I often instructed high school marching drumlines. One year, I served at a camp somewhere in the western part of Virginia. Bands came to us, and we worked with them for a week. Then other bands rolled in for their marching camps.

I remember we were based at a small college. It was pretty–lots of rolling hills and big green trees–but sort of out in the middle of nowhere. I also remember taking lots of back roads to get there from my home in North Carolina. As I traveled to the college, night fell and so did the rain. The roads were wet, slick and filled with curves; and it was dark–I mean really dark. However, I made it there safely, checked in, and had a great couple of weeks.

When I left the camp, I took those same roads home; but the path looked and felt very different. The sun was shining, the windows were down and the radio was blaring. I was enjoying the freedom of a little money in my pocket and the beginning of two weeks of fun and relaxation before the start of fall classes. Life was good!

All of a sudden, I noticed steam rising from under my hood and my little Pontiac T1000 started sputtering. I saw a small country church ahead and pulled into its unpaved parking lot. There was a house beside the church. Other than that, I saw nothing but hills and trees. Now this was way before the time of GPS devices and cell phones; so basically, I was stuck.

I checked out the church. The doors were locked and no one was there. I went over to the house thinking the pastor might live there. I knocked a few times, and finally, an older man appeared. He wasn’t the pastor, and I could tell he wasn’t thrilled about being bothered by a stranger on a lazy Sunday afternoon. I told him my situation, and asked if he could help me. He asked me to wait a few minutes. When he reappeared, his countenance had changed and he was much nicer. “I know a little something about cars,” he said. “Let me take a look.”

About five minutes later, he had the problem diagnosed and said he needed to call a friend of his for a part. The friend came over, and before I knew it everything was as good as new. I asked how much I owed him, and he just wanted enough to cover the part and materials he’d used (which was practically nothing). The man then asked if I wanted to use his phone to call my parents to let them know I’d be a bit later because of my car issue. As I drove away, he waved and smiled, and I did the same. I’d taken up most of his Sunday afternoon, and I was amazed at how kind and helpful he’d been to me.

Twenty-seven years later, I don’t remember the man’s name, where exactly I was or what he did to fix the car. What I do remember is feeling happy and blessed by his radical hospitality. This gentleman was salt and light to me–he made my life brighter and better that day. May we all go, be and do likewise.

Return to the GPS Guide to read today’s scripture and reflection questions

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