10.31.14 Insight from Chris Folmsbee

Chris Folmsbee is Resurrection’s Director of Discipleship Ministries.  He is the author of several books, with an extensive background in applying principles of spiritual growth to real life. He, his wife Gina and their family have been attending Resurrection since 2008.

What’s worse than having a conversation with someone who shares a different perspective on a particular issue, and realizing they are not really listening to you? I’ll tell you what’s worse…having a conversation with someone and discovering that they are merely pretending to listen to your views, convictions or beliefs. Discovering that they have already made up their mind that you are wrong and they are right.

This is what Paul faces in our reading today from Acts 28:17-31. The Jewish leaders in Rome are not willing to listen to Paul’s gospel—a gospel of salvation, declaring that the hope of Israel has been fulfilled in Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-20). The Jewish leaders Paul assembled in Rome indicated that they were ready to hear his views, but in reality they were not. They were not open-minded, as they tried to appear. As a result, Paul was able to convince a few people that Jesus was the Messiah, but most of the Jewish leaders would not believe. They came into the conversation with their minds already made up, and they would not accept Jesus as the Messiah.

As the adage goes, there are things we know, things we don’t know and things we don’t know we don’t know. Every day I learn how much I don’t know about life and faith. This realization produces a curiosity within me that compels me to seek answers to my questions. For me, many of the meaningful times of learning and discovery come in the context of a conversation where listening is more than a mere idea—it is a practiced virtue.

I pray that each of us would stretch beyond a closed mind. I pray that we will learn to listen well—opening our hearts, minds and hands to new ideas and practices that allow us to more faithfully live out the mission of God in the world around us.

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

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10.30.14 Insight 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.  

Paul’s journey to Rome is full of lots of action. Just picture it all–rough sailing on choppy seas, shipwreck, foreign lands, strange people, snakebite, healings, more stops in foreign ports, new encounters and adventures. I can imagine this as a Hollywood blockbuster full of dramatic moments, a sort of mash-up of Perfect Storm meets Cast Away. So it might be easy to miss a less dramatic but common thread through this account–stories of hospitality and welcome that abound at each point along the way.

When we slow down and look closely through these verses, welcoming the stranger is everywhere. Take a look: The natives of Malta offered “unusual kindness,” Publius hosted them for 3 days on his own dime, the rest of the people “bestowed many honors on them,” and these are not even fellow Christians, just locals welcoming strangers. The natives at Malta didn’t know Paul. They knew he was a prisoner, a criminal on his way to punishment, and still they offered welcome! Then, at Puteoli, they “were invited to stay” with believers for seven days. Finally, before they could even get all the way to the city limits of Rome, followers of Jesus, folks they do not even know, came out of the city to meet them and welcome them.

The practice of radical hospitality the people offered this stranger (Paul) is striking. And it can seem very alien and even dangerous to us today.  Maybe that’s because, in unexpected ways, it is indeed risky to welcome strangers. They challenge us and change us. They bring their strangeness into our lives, widening our angle of view so that we see things we didn’t see before (a “murderer” becomes a “god”?). They disrupt our assumptions about ourselves, about the world (what? Paul’s hand didn’t swell up from the snakebite?). Strangers bring their own gifts that meet us in our need (Paul healed many). Strangers can, if we let them, call out of us that deep longing we have to reach out to them with the very same welcome that God has already shown us. This is radical stuff, because God’s work in each of us is radical stuff.

Christians, including folks here at The Church of the Resurrection, reach out to newcomers to church or to the faith, to immigrants newly arrived, to recently released incarcerated folks who feel like strangers in society–all powerful witnesses to the welcome that comes from God. For most of us, welcome happens in small, daily ways. Today you and I will encounter strangers–at the grocery store, at work, among your children’s friends, on Facebook. All of these are opportunities to practice radical hospitality–a simple smile, an open heart, interest in knowing them, a word of hope. See how these strangers change you and open your eyes to God’s life around you.

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

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10.29.14 Insight from Kari Burgess

Kari Burgess is a Program Director for the Catalyst team, handling promotion and marketing for all of the conferences held at Resurrection, as well as registration and coordinating hospitality volunteers.

In reading today’s scripture passage from Acts, I’m inspired by how succinctly, systematically and boldly Paul lays out his case for Jesus. He has the opportunity to tell the story, the whole story, to a group of people who are not exactly “open” to hearing about Jesus. And Festus says, “You are out of your mind, Paul! Your great learning is driving you insane!” With the benefit of hindsight, my first reaction is that Paul has presented his case so well. How could that not convince Festus and King Agrippa to believe?

On the other hand, Paul must have sounded like a lunatic to them. Think about it. If we read this story online today, we would likely toss it out as nonsense. I am confident I would think it sounded like something straight from a tabloid magazine and completely dismiss it.

Then I wondered, whatever happened to King Agrippa and Festus? Did they ever come to believe? In our text King Agrippa says, “Do you think in such a short time you can convince me to become a Christian?” After all, how many people can believe this story after hearing it just one time? History indicates that King Agrippa and Festus likely never came to believe. And I wonder: how many times did someone share the gospel with them?

Paul was the great evangelist, and we too are called to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah to the ends of the earth. Paul was so good at this—he loved Jesus so much that he couldn’t help but proclaim the Good News wherever he went, no matter his circumstances. The Good News oozed from every pore of his being; it was the core of who he was. How can we live up to this same calling today?

Many of you are likely familiar with the song “Fifteen,” by Greg Long. (If you’ve not heard it before, click here to read the lyrics.) Essentially, the song encourages us as Christians to tell people about Jesus every chance we get, because someone may need to hear about Jesus one time or 15 times before they “get it,” before they believe the story. Actually, it may take 100 times to counteract the negative experiences some have had with the church, and the sad reality is many will never come to believe. But every positive encounter someone has can tweak their interest. And this is, after all, our calling.

Evangelism can take many forms. It can be as simple as doing a kindness for a neighbor or acquaintance. Bringing a meal to someone who is sick. Picking up and returning dropped cash to the person in line in front of you at Target. Mentioning the coat drive your church is hosting. And doing each of these things because of your love for Jesus Christ, and in His name. These things are simple, come easily to most of us and may not even feel like “evangelism.” But these soft touches can be an influence on a non-religious or nominally religious person.

A little more challenging can be letting someone know you have been praying for them during a difficult time. Attempting to answer the “why” question to friend struggling with a cancer diagnosis. Inviting a neighbor to church, or to take The Alpha course. Sharing your faith journey over coffee with a nominally religious friend. Asking a friend if they know the gospel story. You will need to be a little more prepared to share in these ways. I encourage you to think about your own faith journey, and how you might share your story with others.

Here are a few resources that might be helpful:

  • Pastor Adam’s book Why?, available at The Well Bookstore.
  • The Alpha, Embark and Journey 101 classes are designed to guide you on your journey of faith, and can help you or someone you know learn what it means to become a deeply committed Christian.
  • The Group Life Ministry has developed a 3-week course called “Cultivate: Developing a Lifestyle of Sharing Your Faith Stories.” This is available as a DVD for small groups to equip members with the courage, skills and tools to engage people in thoughtful conversations about faith. For more information about using in your small group (or an upcoming session at the Leawood Campus), contact Jon Edlin (jon.edlin@cor.org).

Will you be the one to bring someone you know to believe in Jesus? You may not ever share in someone’s actual conversion moment, but you can contribute by being one of those soft touches, by telling your story of coming to faith and how you are different because of it. Your enthusiasm for your faith, and willingness to tell someone else why you love Jesus, could be touch #5. You may never know the difference you’ve made in someone’s faith journey. That doesn’t matter. Don’t miss the chance to be bold, as Paul was!

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

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10.28.14 Insight 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.

We all know spiritual gifts: things like mercy, joy, encouragement, wisdom, and so on and so forth. Everyone has a favorite–don’t pretend you don’t. Me, I’m into some of the lesser known spiritual gifts. They didn’t really make the cut to get mentioned by name in the Bible, but they’re definitely useful. Diplomacy? Nothing like resolving a conflict by making both sides agree that it doesn’t need to be there in the first place.

But my favorite is craftiness. When someone can work the system, with all its loopholes and inconsistencies, to the advantage of the kingdom of God, I secretly kind of love that person. After all, Jesus did tell his followers to be shrewd as snakes (but innocent as doves).

In Acts 23, when the Jewish leaders capture the apostle Paul and bring him to trial with the intent of killing him, Paul pulls a move that’s so crafty that I’ve started calling him Mr. Pinterest. He pits the Jewish religious leaders against each other by stirring up a religious argument so divisive that they turn on each other, and in doing so, he actually secures for himself the protection of the Roman military for the duration of the trial. I have to admit, in this story, Paul is kind of my hero.

And Christian history is full of Christians who worked the system to further the kingdom of God. Jesus found plenty of legal loopholes to preach his gospel of grace and forgiveness, and Paul had other tricks up his sleeve. But these stories extend even beyond the pages of the Bible.

The 2006 film Amazing Grace portrays a group of Christians working the system in late-18th-century England to abolish slavery. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth a look, as you can’t help but smile when you see these crafty Christians use the existing laws to turn the slave trade on its head.

There are similar stories surrounding the first English editions of the Bible. The Tyndale version, the first English version translated from the original texts, was so illegal that it had to be smuggled into England. William Tyndale dared to translate that it was faith alone and not sacramental penance that saved us. He ended up paying the ultimate price when the church finally caught him and made him a martyr, but at that point, his Bibles could not be stopped. The church eventually gave in and produced the King James Bible, an “authorized” version of the Bible in English.

These stories continue today. Bible translation and smuggling is even more prevalent today than it was in the 1500s, and missionaries continually look for legal loopholes to continue caring for others and meeting their needs. I’ve heard stories of Christians finding legal loopholes to shut down prostitution rings and slave trade in foreign countries, and even in our own country. Now more than ever, we need craftiness to combat evil and enact good.

Now, I’m not saying that we should go out and break a bunch of laws for Jesus. The Bible’s also pretty clear that laws are a pretty big deal and should be respected whenever possible, and there are entire books of the Bible dedicated to not stirring up trouble so as not to cut short a long life of ministry and influence. The point is that we need to be looking for anything and everything to further the kingdom of God.

Imagine if Christians were known for being so determined, so persistent in doing good that they were a virtually unstoppable force in this world. Imagine atheists and people from other religions joining us because they believe we are the best hope for a better tomorrow. Some of the largest organizations dedicated to ending slavery and world hunger have Christian roots, and these organizations need people with minds for overcoming any obstacle.

If you have a mind for bending the rules, for solving problems politically, there’s a higher purpose for that. And if you don’t have a mind for that, don’t be afraid to explore that. We need every tool sharpened and ready to go to advance God’s kingdom.

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

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10.27.14 Insight from Donna Karlen

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

In this weekend’s sermon message, we heard about Christians “running to the danger.” When it comes to the acts of the Apostle Paul, that’s a bit of an understatement.

For the past several weeks, we’ve traveled with Paul on his missionary journeys to places where he was beaten, threatened with death, stoned and left for dead and generally ran into more than his share of dangers. But still he pressed on – sharing the gospel and telling anyone who would listen (and many who wouldn’t) about the love and grace found in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

In Johnson County, Kansas, we don’t have to endure beatings or face crowds of people calling for our heads when we share the Christian message of love and grace. But we have our own “dangers” to face: resistance, rejection, ridicule. And while these are not life-threatening, certainly they can bring pain and discouragement.

I can’t say that I have ever faced even those kinds of dangers in my Christian walk. I’ve always been surrounded by believers and haven’t had to fight the good fight. I don’t know if I’ve been missing hearing God’s call, because I struggle with discerning what exactly that is supposed to sound like. Paul may have had a rough journey, but he certainly heard his calling loud and clear on that road to Damascus!

Like today’s scripture reading, this reflection is going to leave you hanging. I don’t know if I will figure out what God wants me to do (perhaps a stop by our next Spiritual Gifts class might help me to discover the answer). But just like I was compelled to turn the page of my Bible to read what Paul said to the crowd in Acts 22, I will keep turning the pages of my life with a heart open to God’s call.

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

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10.25.14 Insight from Mary Jones

Mary Jones is an eleven-year member of the Resurrection family, and served on staff for nine. Her greatest joy is serving with My Father’s House – Resurrection Furnishings Ministry alongside her husband Kevin and the many people there who are dedicated to building God’s Kingdom in Kansas City.

Stop! If you haven’t read today’s scripture yet, please do so now. You don’t want to miss Paul’s heart-felt and very powerful reflection of a life bent on serving Christ and sharing the gospel. In it is a call to action and discernment for those who will follow him. It is a foundational message for Christian leaders and teachers–and really for all of us because we are all given the privilege of making an impact in the lives of those in our circle of influence.

He gathers with the Ephesian leaders (the only speech Paul gave to Christians in the book of Acts) and lays out his Holy Spirit-led modus operandi. I have to admit I got a little emotional reading it, it is so powerful. I dug out a Bible Study I participated in years ago and found the notes I’d made on this passage. (Guess I thought I’d need it someday–turned out to be today!) It highlighted the five major points Paul makes.  First he lists Humility as being the first grace necessary in a Christian servant. “..serving the Lord with all humility with many tears and trials…” Those whom God uses most serve Him sometimes with tears, trials, temptations and opposition.  Secondly, his diligence in his teaching “…I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you…going from house to house.” Thirdly Paul was prepared. “I have told you everything God wants you to know.” Paul learned the gospel in depth so that he could teach it in its fullness. Fourth, Paul showed love for the elders (teachers/leaders) and admonished them to be prepared to meet those who will challenge their faith walk. “…I commend you to God and to the word of His grace which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance.”  Fifth and finally, Paul kneels in prayer with the group. “…they all wept freely…knowing that they would see his face no more…and they accompanied him to the ship.”  Wow, what a powerful moment! From that old Bible Study: “This quality of love to their Lord, to each other, and to the needy world around distinguished the early Ephesian church.” What an impact Paul made!

Thank you to all who teach, and those in leadership positions. All of us have the privilege to invest in others and make an impact in our little corner of the world. This passage can help us do it better! A shout out to ‘old’ Bible study leader Lee who helped unfold this passage for our group years ago. Thankfully I’m a Bible Study pack rat. :-)

Dear Jesus, thank you for standing by Paul, whose life and writings blesses and inspire us. Please undergird those who teach and lead others in your name. Give us something of his courage and faith, as we joyfully do whatever you set before us. Amen.

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

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10.24.14 Insight from Darren Lippe

Darren 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.

Back when I was a Boy Scout, I took the Public Speaking Merit Badge facilitated by volunteers from Toastmasters International. (The Toastmasters is an educational organization dedicated to helping members improve their communication & public speaking skills.) We prepared & presented a 5-minute informative speech, a 5-minute inspirational speech, and had 30 seconds to prepare a variety of 3-minute extemporaneous speeches. The speeches were evaluated, tips were offered to help improve for the next time, and a horn was honked every time you said “Um” or “You know.”(18 honks in a 3-minute speech was a good indication that either I had a verbal tic that needed to be addressed or as my Scoutmaster teased, “a flock of geese was heading south for the winter.”)

As we prepared our speeches, we recognized the wisdom of Winston Churchill’s observation that “I shall give a long speech today, because I have not had time to prepare a short one.” In some instances, a long presentation is much easier to offer since there isn’t as much need to ration ideas & illustrations. (Amen! – Editor)

I’ve always appreciated the angst of the public speaker that was asked to present a speech on “Nature” to a women’s gardening club. As he considered this vast topic, he asked, “How much time is allotted?” The program coordinator cheerfully replied, “Take as much time as you like. We leave at 1:15.”

With this background, I’ve long been fascinated with famous (and not-so-famous) long-winded public speakers. President William Henry Harrison’s inaugural address in 1841 clocked in at 1 hour & 45 minutes. Unfortunately for him, he delivered the speech in the midst of a bitterly cold storm, caught pneumonia, and died. (His term lasted roughly 5 minutes for every word of his 8,445-word speech.)

Or then there was Teddy Roosevelt’s 90-minute campaign speech in 1912, which he insisted on delivering even after being shot in the chest. (Fortunately, the folded 50-page speech in his coat pocket plus his eyeglass case helped minimize the impact of the bullet. His opening line, “Ladies & Gentlemen, I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose,” would have to rank as one of the all-time-best attention-getters.)

Or there was Edward Everett’s 13,607-word speech that he delivered to a gathering of dignitaries at a cemetery in Pennsylvania. While this distinguished statesman & noted orator’s speech was carefully crafted with details of the battle, comparisons to famous Greek conquests, & held his audience spellbound, he was overshadowed by the following speaker’s 2 minute presentation that was written on the back of an envelope on the train from Washington, D.C. to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. (Everett graciously congratulated President Lincoln on his speech, saying “that I came near to the central idea of the occasion in 2 hours, which you did in 2 minutes.)

Finally, there is today’s story of Paul’s lengthy diatribe. As I read Luke’s description of the event, I initially thought he might have been having a little fun at Paul’s wordiness. Only Paul could have a discussion interrupted at midnight by a young man falling nearly to his death and still be able to continue talking until dawn. However, upon review, I think Luke is actually admiring Paul’s passion for sharing the Gospel. This wasn’t an interminable monologue monopolized by Paul; rather this would have been much like a small-group discussion with Paul answering questions that were being thrown at him left & right. Paul, realizing his time with this tiny congregation was terribly short, wants to pack in as much as possible. I would submit that Luke shares this story to offer his readers a glimpse of Paul’s incredible love for those longing to become believers in Christ.

So, what might this little vignette offer for us today? Perhaps, we need to consider our own faith story. Maybe we could jot down a few ideas of what our life was like before Christ, how we came to believe, and what has our life been like since becoming a believer. Recognizing that a faith story that begins with “When I was in the womb…” is probably going to be a bit long in today’s culture, we might instead opt to tackle the challenge of relating our faithwalk as succinctly as possible. (Hello, pot? This is kettle. – Editor.)

The Boy Scout motto, “Be Prepared,” is applicable here. We never know when someone might ask about our faith journey, so let’s begin to organize our thoughts today. You know, … (HONK! – Editor.)

 

 

 

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

 

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10.23.14 Insight from Megan O’Neil

Megan O’Neill is the Learn Events Coordinating Assistant at Resurrection.

I’m not sure if you have heard the news: America is in the middle of celebrating a favorite pastime–something called The World Series. Just in case you have not heard the other news: Our very own Kansas City Royals are playing in said series for the first time in 29 years.

Friends, this is a BIG deal.

The hype leading up to The World Series was of hopes and dreams for Royals fans. Then the Boys in Blue made it to the Post Season! The flood gates opened for endless possibilities to make a quick buck.

Over the past few weeks alone you cannot miss the surge of t-shirts, pennants, hats, jerseys, every type of Royals memorabilia imaginable – including Royals underwear. Yes, you heard right. A quick buck! Even local restaurant business sales have increased, with fans celebrating over fried food and beverages with 200 of their closest friends. Let’s be honest, after eight back-to-back wins, everyone in blue is your friend!

This instant fame came as a shocking surprise to Kansas City. The area fountains are turning blue, work productivity is decreasing, sleep is a distant memory, sports clothing stores are hiring people on the spot, and Facebook feeds are nothing short of Royal-dom.

What will happen after the World Series ends? Regardless of who wins? My guess is that the excitement and shock will stay in the hearts of fans for a little while. Most fans will move on with their lives and chalk this up as the October to remember. Some fans may never come down from this mountain-top moment–they may take up residence at the “K” until next season.

In our reading today, we see in Acts 19:25 that Ephesian craftsmen made a business selling silver shrines of the Ephesian goddess Artemis; “you know that we make an easy living from this business.” It is easy to see that the hype surrounding the Royals is an easy living for many people. This hype it is short lived, though. The idolization of baseball will fade quickly after the final game. Heightened sales of clothing, trinkets, food and drink will eventually go back to normal and the metro will get back onto their sleep schedule.

I cannot help but see many parallels with today’s verse and the events of today. The theater in Ephesus seated about 25,000 people and it was full of people shouting “Great is Artemis of Ephesians!” The Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City holds over 37,000 people and is full of people chanting “Let’s Go Royals” (clap, clap, clapclapclap).

Competition is not a bad thing, and neither is cheering on a favorite team, but getting lost in the hype can be. It may be more fun to spend big money on a World Series game ticket than to give $5 to the homeless man on the corner. So as Christians, how are we shining the light of Christ on our celebrations and actions? Do we welcome those outside our walls? Do we live into the Gospel message of loving those unlike us?

With the remaining games in this Series, I challenge you make this experience more Christ-like than “Be Royal.”

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10.22.14 Insight from Angela LaVallie

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.

Although there certainly were those who practiced dark arts, as Pastor Adam mentioned in his sermon this past week, the “sorcery” Paul warns against was probably often spells to help people achieve goals or dreams – spells for fertility or health or happiness.

These sorts of spells might seem absurd to us given our advanced knowledge in medicine, agriculture, technology, and other fields. I wonder, though, if these spells might be compared to superstitions. Many athletes (and fans) have superstitions around their teams winning; they must wear the same smelly ball cap or watch the game with the same group of people in the same location or they’ll lose. If a bride wears something old, new, borrowed, and blue, she’ll have good luck in her marriage.

In the summer of 2005, my cousin and I drove Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica. At breakfast on the Sunday morning we left, Kristee spilled salt on the table (a supposed cause of bad luck); that afternoon, we got a speeding ticket. At breakfast on Monday morning, she again spilled salt; that afternoon, we had a flat tire. I had never considered myself particularly superstitious, but I salted Kristee’s food for the remainder of the trip and since then have thrown spilled salt over my left shoulder (the believed antidote to cancel the bad luck).

I actually wrote my Master’s Thesis (a creative nonfiction piece) recounting our adventures on the Mother Road. One of the very subtle themes in my thesis is faith – in superstition, saints, God. Superstitions seem harmless, but when we give them even a little power in our lives, how much power do we take away from God?

I’m guessing there are a lot of people who don’t struggle with superstitious beliefs, but there are plenty of other areas of life that we let take control of our lives. Some struggle with drug or alcohol addictions, busy work schedules or kids’ schedules. Maybe the tv shows we watch or the music we listen to has more influence on the way we act or speak than we’d like to think. I challenge you to ask God to help you avoid those things that tempt you to give God less control in your life.

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

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10.21.14 Insight from Rev. Glen Shoup

Rev. Glen Shoup is the Executive Pastor of Worship and a Congregational Care Pastor.

Today’s reading gives us a very interesting part of the story.

Essentially, right after Paul had told those in Ephesus, who had gathered to hear him, about the Holy Spirit…which is the Spirit of the resurrected Christ…who is God self-disclosed—that’s the Trinity (The Trinitarian nature of God is holy mystery—and therefore by definition, it is beyond our capacity to fully understand—but we can sometimes make that mystery more complicated than needed)—so after Paul had told them about the Holy Spirit and baptized them in the name of Jesus, he goes into the synagogue and compellingly shares the gospel. But because some there had already predetermined they weren’t going to listen—he sets up shop next door (not quite literally but in “Tyrannus’ lecture hall” [vs 9]…probably the home-base of a local philosopher who was willing to host Paul) and continues preaching the gospel with powerful results.

So much so that pretty incredible miracles start happening just from people coming in contact with everyday items (handkerchiefs, pieces of clothing, etc) that have come in contact with Paul—and as word of these miracles began to spread, some opportunistic sorcerers decided to try and capitalize and they started using Jesus’ name to perform magic tricks and find out that this isn’t something you should try at home—because when they try to cast a demon out by throwing Jesus’ name around, they wind up with a good old fashioned tail-whipping by the fella (or by the demon—or both) they were trying to cast out…like I said, a pretty interesting part of the story.

But what to make of today’s reading—especially the most entertaining parts…demons cast out…miracles occurring when you touch a handkerchief Paul touched—what do we make of this?

Well I’ve got to tell you, I’m as skeptical as they come relative to this kind of stuff. I grew up in a church tradition that primarily came out of the early Methodists; but it also had in its history some Pentecostal groups that were part of its formation.  So from my perspective growing up in that expression of the Church (which by my time, had long since left behind any association with the Pentecostals), the charismatics or Pentecostals were like the crazy uncle that nobody really wants to admit is part of the family (and the more closely related you are to the crazy uncle, the more adamant you are about distancing yourself from him).  So instinctively, there’s nobody more skeptical than I am or more inclined to label as shysters the TV evangelists with their prayer cloths and miracle anointing oil that they’ll be glad to send to you “for your best love offering”…and the better your love offering, the more they’ll send you—I just tend to dismiss out of hand anything that even has a whiff of that kind of thing.

But when it comes to what we read in verses 11-12 of today’s reading, as I’ve grown and matured (at least somewhat) in my thinking, I’ve come to believe that sometimes—both in biblical times and now—God chooses to reveal His power and presence in extraordinary, unbelievable and some might even say bizarre ways (at least when compared to our “normal”) for the purpose of making His message—and the truth and veracity of His gospel known.  And it actually seems perfectly logical to me that in Paul’s day, in a place like Ephesus where there was no previous awareness of Christ or the gospel, God might choose to do some incredible things…like healing people because they came in contact with a handkerchief that could clearly be traced back to Paul so that the veracity and legitimacy of what Paul was proclaiming could be backed by some undeniable God-like power…for the purpose of being a catalytic spark in the spread of Christian gospel.

And when it comes to what we read in verses 13-16 of today’s passage, I also continue to believe that anytime individuals try to co-opt God’s name or power for their own purposes—whether in biblical times or now—they are playing with fire…and you know how that maxim ends.

So as I read today’s passage, I walk away asking God (1) to keep me open to the moving of His Holy Spirit—in ordinary and in extraordinary ways; and (2) I walk away from today’s reading intending to be very careful to never seek to use God’s name or influence for my own agenda.

Two pretty good reminders for me from an interesting passage of scripture.

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