7.4.15 Insights from Dan Entwistle

dan-entwistleDan Entwistle serves as Resurrection’s Managing Executive Director.

The church offices were closed on Friday, as it was the weekday closest to today’s official holiday, Independence Day. After morning showers passed through, the weather was absolutely fantastic. So I was able to spend much of my extra day working outside on projects that needed attention. A couple of these hours were spent with a chainsaw in hand–clearing a natural area that was overgrown.

You see, this part of our property is full of those nasty thorny hedge trees and as if that wasn’t enough, poison ivy runs rampant in this untamed part of our yard. If you’ve ever cleared a natural area such as this, you know what a nasty job it can be. Hedge trees tend to be twisted and thorny and they are as tough as nails. My job today was to cut them down (with as few scratches and scrapes as possible) so they can be tossed into the brush pile to be burned. Sounds familiar, right? Verse 6 from yesterday’s reading, which sets up today’s reading, says, “If you don’t remain in me, you will be like a branch that is thrown out and dries up. Those branches are gathered up, thrown into the fire, and burned.”

By contrast, we are followers of Jesus–not as servants who don’t know what their master is doing. Instead he calls us friends! We are meant to be like those branches that abide deeply in Christ and bear his fruit. Our task is to extend the work of Christ into this world and continue to be fruitful in the ways Jesus was fruitful. Today’s reading concludes with the joyous message that at the heart of godly fruitfulness is love. “As the Father loved me, I too have loved you. Remain in my love….This is my commandment: love each other as I have loved you.”  (John 15: 9, 12)

Today, as we celebrate our freedoms, let’s determine not to use freedom to be thorny, tough and twisted. Instead, let’s be fruitful.

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

 

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7.3.15 Insights from Darren Lippe

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.

 

Our Small Group is in the midst of a study of hymns this summer, to see if the additional context of the lyrics & composer’s background might enhance our worship experience. We’re reviewing the Doxology, Blessed Assurance, and in preparation for the 4th of July – America the Beautiful.

America the Beautiful’s inclusion in the Hymnal is not without some controversy; some contend it muddies the line between church & state & others complain that we shouldn’t be singing praises to our nation. However, there are over 600 verses in the Bible discussing the relations (or lack thereof) between God & nations & today’s passage symbolically depicts the nation of Israel as the vineyard. So, God is clearly interested in the organizing structure nations offer His children & their subsequent role in developing His Kingdom. Let’s take a brief look at our hymn.

In 1893, Katharine Bates, an English teacher at Wellesley College in Falmouth, MA, took a train trip to Colorado Springs to teach a summer course at Colorado College. She visited the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, traveled across wheat fields of Kansas, & was inspired to write her poem looking at the magnificent vista of the Great Plains from high atop Pike’s Peak. (There was the teacher who asked her student who first explored Pike’s Peak. I don’t know. Trying to help him along, she asked who is buried in Grant’s tomb? Grant? Right. And then who explored Pike’s Peak? Grant?)

 O beautiful for spacious skies,

For amber waves of grain,

For purple mountain majesties

Above the fruited plains!

 The first 4 verses state a fact. She was in awe of God’s creation. (I always like the comic depicting Columbus as he arrives to the New World saying, “Look, gentlemen! Purple mountains! Spacious skies! Fruited plains! Is someone writing this down?”)

America the Beautiful!

God shed His grace on thee,

And crown thy good with brotherhood

From sea to shining sea.

There is some debate on the 2nd line of the 2nd stanza. Is she proclaiming that God has shed His grace on thee? This causes heartburn for some, as though we are proclaiming we are God’s favorite nation. These critics contend it echoes the arrogance of John Winthrop, Puritan Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 1600’s, when he famously wrote, “We shall be a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people upon it.”

But I would submit that Miss Bates is expressing a hope here – not a fact. She is making a request that may “God shed His grace on thee.” Which falls into line with the doozy of a qualifier Mr. Winthrop writes following the above quote that, “if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story & a byword throughout the world.”

She then expresses the hope that this amazing God-given natural bounty of our land be used to develop a community of mutual respect & brotherhood.

Our hymn goes on to request that God mend our every flaw, that we should be grateful for the sacrifices of those who loved their country more than life, that every material gain we make be divinely inspired, and may our hopes be undimmed by human tears.

So, this 4th of July weekend we should stop & marvel at God’s awesome creation, we should prayerfully thank those before us who made such great sacrifices for our freedoms, and we should exercise our unique liberty to worship & praise God as we please. And if we start waxing poetic about America, let’s just hope someone is writing it down.

For your enjoyment, here is my favorite rendition of America the Beautiful – well, at least until I find a Resurrection choir recording:

Ray Charles singing “America the Beautiful”

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

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7.2.15 Insights from Janelle Gregory

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

I stood with my son (10 years-old at the time) in the middle of the Lego aisle in Target. He had just gotten his very first allowance and it was already burning a hole in his pocket. He looked over all of his options and ended up picking out the two that he wanted. The only problem is that he only had enough money for one (we’re cheap at the Gregory house). I explained that he had to pick one or the other, but he couldn’t afford both. It was a tough decision, but we finally made our way to the register with the selection in-hand.

As Christians, we often hear about the free gift of grace. We have been given salvation when we have done nothing to deserve it. There were no good acts on our part that paid for this. This gift freely given to us is core to what we believe.

And while salvation is absolutely free, there is a cost on our part to being a disciple of Christ. As we grow in our faith, we will pay by giving up our selfish desires, our pride, our time, our money, our gifts, and our talents. This is a normal part of following a selfless Savior.

But most of us are not terribly excited to dish out the payment. Like my son in the toy aisle, we not only want the free salvation, we want to be a disciple, and we want our old lives too. We assume that we can have it all.

But if we are putting in more effort to be like Jesus, we will find it counterproductive to live for ourselves (our default mode). If you think that you are growing in your faith, you should be able to look back and see what has cost you. Does your life look any different than it would had you never started following Christ or are you coasting along in default mode?

The good news about my son is that the joy he got from his Lego set far outweighed his regret for leaving the other one behind. I doubt he even remembers that other Lego set. But to this day, he still has his Legos that he bought with his own money. Similarly, I have no buyer’s regret about the life I’ve found in Christ. If you find yourself stuck in the middle of the aisle, wondering which you should buy, don’t focus on what you’re giving up–focus on the enjoyment and fulfillment you’ll get out of a life in Christ.

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

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7.1.15 Insights from Wendy Connelly

Screen Shot 2015-05-30 at 8.55.49 PMWendy Connelly, wife to Mark and mom to Lorelei & Gryffin, is Community Outreach Director at the Leawood campus, a graduate student at Saint Paul School of Theology, Faith Walk columnist for the Kansas City Star, and co-leads the “Live and Let Think” dialogues at Resurrection Downtown.

Being “all in” for the kingdom calls to my mind the experience of falling in love. The initial, wrecking waves of emotion; the swooning, exaggerated gestures nauseating passers-by; and the tunnel-vision that so fills the attention and faculties of the love-struck can leave those on the outside dumb-struck, scratching their heads. But for the pair caught up in romance, they are happy fools–all lesser things fall away.

“To be wise and love,” writes Shakespeare, “exceeds man’s might.”

So it goes, I think, with the divine romance. God, like a great lover, pursues us. Rescues us. Wrecks us. The entire biblical narrative, from the first question of the Torah, records this quest: “Ayeka, Adam?” “Ayeka, Eve?” … Where are you?

When we, the beloved, recognize that God laid it all on the line for us, and grasp the weight of this cosmic gesture, we become wooed to the kingdom. It’s why the saints were known as “God’s fools”—they were “all in,” entranced by love, willing to risk everything for the One who Is everything. And in this strange and upside-down kingdom, the treasures of life belong to God’s fools.

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

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6.30.15 Insights from Nicole Alison

Nicole-alisonNicole Alison serves as Coordinating Assistant to Operations at The Church of the Resurrection. Nicole finds her voice through writing. In her spare time she is a personal blogger and a ghost- writer for the Next Steps Pastor at a local church in Lenexa. Her passion is to share the love of Jesus through personal stories of redemption.

A parable can be thought of as an earthly story with a heavenly message. What I love about parables is that they proclaim truth in a relateable way.  And what better way to learn about Jesus than when we can meet with Him right where we are in life? I love the Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:2-9), and how a common man scattered seed onto the earth and without any further effort watched the seeds grow from wee little sprouts to a full blown harvest! I can draw a relateable truth from this parable–I need to plant the word of God in my heart, let it take root, and watch God work in my life.

I think of the “seed” that I scatter as my spiritual gift–which is encouragement. There are days and even months that I put myself out there, and stretch my spiritual muscles, and don’t see the fruit of my actions. I’m left to wonder if I’m really making a difference. But in those times I have to trust that God is still at work, and I have to learn to fully rely on Him. Like in the Parable of the Sower, I choose to trust beautiful things are happening, even though I can’t quite grasp what is going on in the present. As long as I allow the heavenly message to be engrained on my heart, I know it will be reflected in my actions, and bring forth God’s plan for my life in a way that will reap a great harvest.

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

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6.29.15 Insights from Melanie Hill

mhillgpsMelanie Hill is the Guest Connections Program Director at Resurrection.

I love stories. As far back as I can remember I’ve loved stories, whether listening to my mother read the Chronicles of Narnia aloud to us as children or picking up a good book to read myself. I love what a story can do. It can entertain and it can educate. It can make you laugh and move you to tears. As an avid reader, it is not uncommon for me to mourn the ending of a good story. Stories are powerful.

In fact Jonathan Gottscall, a researcher and writer, says this about story:
“Until recently we’ve only been able to speculate about story’s persuasive effects. But over the last several decades psychology has begun a serious study of how story affects the human mind. Results repeatedly show that our attitudes, fears, hopes, and values are strongly influenced by story. In fact, fiction seems to be more effective at changing beliefs than writing that is specifically designed to persuade through argument and evidence.”

No wonder Jesus chose this powerful medium to communicate his life-changing message. There’s something about a story that sticks with you in a way that facts and data don’t. Virtually every culture has used story to pass down their histories and truths. Story unites us as human beings. It gives us a common language in which to access life in all its wonderful and terrible aspects.

Perhaps the thing I love most about stories is that each of us is invited to live out our own. The idea that my life is a story worth telling is both humbling and daunting. One of my favorite authors, Brene Brown, says “Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we’ll ever do.” You have a unique story to share with the world. You bring something to the table that no one else does. If your life is your message to the world what will you share?

I leave you with one last quote from Donald Miller:
“And so my prayer is that your story will have involved some leaving and some coming home, some summer and some winter, some roses blooming out like children in a play. My hope is your story will be about changing, about getting something beautiful born inside of you, about learning to love a woman or a man, about learning to love a child, about moving yourself around water, around mountains, around friends, about learning to love others more than we love ourselves, about learning oneness as a way of understanding God. We get one story, you and I, and one story alone. God has established the elements, the setting and the climax and the resolution. It would be a crime not to venture out, wouldn’t it? It might be time for you to go. It might be time to change, to shine out.”

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

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6.27.15 Insights from Carol Cartmill

Carol Cartmill serves as the Executive Director of Adult Discipleship at The Church of the Resurrection.

Images of Christian perfection always break down when measured against human performance. It’s no different with the image of a perfect heavenly Father. There are no perfect earthly fathers (or mothers, for that matter). There are varying degrees of success as it relates to our earthly fathers painting a picture of the love and holiness of God, our Father.

Experiences with my earthly father certainly fell short. He left our family when I was an infant. When I began to learn about God as Father, I started with a blank slate. I had to begin building my perceptions from what I learned through Scripture, especially the picture Jesus painted of his “Abba.” That is, until Jim and I became parents. Watching Jim father our two daughters made God’s unconditional love for me more real.

I’m profoundly grateful for the picture Jim’s fathering paints to help me better understand my heavenly Father, but it’s what I have learned through studying the Bible and the life and teachings of Jesus that ultimately gives me confidence. God is my uniquely reliable parent.

The challenge for us is to intentionally and continually deepen our understanding of, and relationship with, our Father who is in heaven. As we do, the relentless love of God will become more real, shaping us into the women and men we, as God’s image-bearing children, are meant to be. We will be people–dads, moms, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, aunts, uncles and friends–who bear witness to God’s love and care.

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

 

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6.26.15 Insights from Abbie Williams

Abbie-WilliamsGPSAbbie Williams is an intern this summer in the Adult Discipleship department at Resurrection. She is a Human Services Major at Elon University. She loves treehouses, drinking coffee, and her friends (not necessarily in that order).

When reading a Bible verse (such as today’s passage) that refers to God’s people as sheep, I tend to forget a very important fact about these animals we are being compared to: sheep are idiots. Sheep desperately need the help of their shepherd. Without the guidance of someone else, sheep will wander from the safety of their flock. They become vulnerable to predators and simply cannot protect themselves from other creatures.

As soon as I remember these characteristics of sheep, I tend to get a little offended. Nobody wants to be called stupid. Nobody wants to admit that they’re helpless on their own. We want to be independent and in control of our own lives. Being vulnerable and leaning on someone else is difficult. I often find myself just acknowledging God’s presence rather than completely surrendering to Him and confessing how much I need a savior in my life.

But I am a sheep. I hate admitting that I’m weak, but the truth is I cannot handle this life on my own. I’m not strong enough and I definitely don’t have the wisdom to know what is best for me. But I have a shepherd I can rely on. God guides me where I need to be and provides me with exactly what I need, not just what I think I need. He cares for me like nobody else can, and fills me up like nothing else can. God will never abandon me like others in this world might. And God definitely has far more amazing plans for me than I could ever dream up for myself. He is everything that I desire, and He constantly gives me the opportunity to be in a relationship with Him.

Completely submitting to God as our shepherd is a hard thing to do, but the freedom it brings makes it worth it. All of the stress and pain that we feel from trying to do everything on our own is given to God and instead we receive a yoke that is easy and a burden that is light (see Matthew 11:28-30). All the uncertainty and fear of the future is taken away, and instead we have comfort in knowing that God is in control and we don’t have to worry. God is our shepherd, and we are safe and sound when we follow Him.

 

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

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6.25.15 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.  

“Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God …” (Deuteronomy 8:18)

Where or when are you most likely to forget God? To move through your life as though you are self-sufficient and self-directed?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how easy it is for me to forget God when I’m online. Partly, it’s because when I’m online I have the illusion that I’m anonymous, which makes me likely to tune out my relationships with others and with God. But also, it’s because when I log-in, I move into a virtual reality that is some “other place” than my everyday life. It’s easy to check my faith at the door – or at the log-in in this case. It’s easy for me to forget that no matter where I go online I’m participating (or not!) in God’s mission for the world.

These words from Deuteronomy remind us that God went before the Israelites and provided for them in the wilderness, and God goes before us now. The internet can be a sort of wilderness. Yet God goes ahead of us spreading a path of grace if we will but have eyes to see. God is always and everywhere making our lives holy, and that includes digital space. We can participate in God’s holiness in cyberspace, or we can check out and forget God’s presence and love there.

What might happen if we remembered God when we move through digital space? How would we be transformed if we saw the virtual world as a place God is at work? “Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God …”

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

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6.24.15 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

Reconciling is a loaded word. It is different than forgiveness. Biblical forgiveness had a financial dimension to it. To forgive a debt meant to send the person away, happy that they didn’t have to keep returning to pay debt. Reconciling means ‘coming back together.’ (See ‘re’ meaning ‘again’ and ‘council’ which is a gathering of people).

In some situations, especially related to abuse, the call to forgive is different than reconcile.

In this Scripture, John the Baptist is ushering in full reconciliation. The Spirit that will be in Him will bring people back to God and reunite relationships that are strained. Are we willing to let the Spirit do the same for us?

Not all forgiveness will include Reconciliation, but all reconciliation will include some level of forgiveness.

May the Spirit of God move you towards reconciliation in all the appropriate ways possible today.

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

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