Monthly Archives: April 2010

4.30.10 Friday Insights from Darren Lippe

Before we dive into today’s scripture, we need to note that this passage is not just someone talking about God & His attributes. This is God describing Himself to Moses. Just like in a job interview, “Tell me about yourself,” can be more illuminating than an applicant’s resume’. (Aside:  When an applicant was asked the difference between a Mcf & MMBtu & what an MMBtu means, one respondent simply said, “It means I don’t get the job.”)

In honor of today’s reference to the Ten Commandments, we’ll list the 10 things we learn about God in today’s scripture reading.

I. Due to our broken nature, we cannot survive in His presence. Thus, we have all of the carefully detailed rituals to approach the Holy of Holies & the Ark of the Covenant. But, thanks to Christ’s incredible act of sacrificial love, you and I can enjoy the presence of God.

II. He is a God of second chances. The tablets, which were destroyed in anger, are re-created.

III. He is full of mercy & compassion. This is quite the headline for Moses & the Israelites. The gods (small g) of their culture were known for their pettiness, their greediness, & their vindictiveness.

IV. One glance at our world (& our lives) confirms that God is indeed slow to anger. His patience is a wonder.

V. Considering Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, we can confirm that His love knows no bounds.

VI. Realizing the seriousness in which He approaches the covenants with His children, God is indeed abounding in faithfulness. This is no small matter. In a world where contracts & promises seem to be only temporary, it is of great comfort to recognize that He will forever honor His covenants.

VII. His love is great enough for everyone who chooses to believe & follow Him. Take a glance at the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12). Jesus describes all of the people who will be blessed by God. Note, they aren’t just the rich, the popular, or the well connected. His love is also for those who are struggling, who mourn, who have no hope. Good news!

VIII. He will forgive wickedness, rebellion & sin. Ah, the big one. “Rebellion” sure seems an accurate description for much of our behavior. Perhaps we look to so many other gods (money, appearance, physical fitness, & career) for fulfillment, until we inevitably realize they just don’t work. Pastor Adam described this sensation in a sermon several years ago, noting that we have a “God-shaped hole” in our hearts. Everything else may temporarily fill the gap, but ultimately they will all fall tragically short. Perhaps we should quit chasing “the next big thing” and just come home.

IX. There are still consequences for behavior outside the bounds. We can be forgiven & we can be washed anew, but the guilty will still face some punishment. We know this from our life experiences.

X. We are part of God’s family. I can’t think of a better description of God’s love for us. He is our Father. We are His children. He loves us. So be it.

4.29.10 Thursday Insights from Pastor Penny Ellwood

I’ll have to admit that the first three chapters in the book of Hosea are not on my list of favorites.   I have some concerns about Hosea using his relationship with his wife, Gomer as an object lesson for the people of Israel and the negative connotations this has for women.  However, now that I’ve got that off my chest, I don’t want to overlook what Hosea was trying to convey to the people or bypass what his message might offer us today.  

During Hosea’s time the most common metaphor for the covenant relationship between God and the people of Israel was a political image, that of a great King and his subjects.  While we tend to think of God in terms of a personal relationship of love and caring, the people of Hosea’s day did not.  They saw their relationship with God as a political exchange. If they complied with the King’s demands, he’d offer  them his protection and benevolence.   Hosea offered them a different image altogether. 

During Hosea’s time, the people of Israel were worshiping other gods and their political leaders were engaged in foreign alliances with pagan nations full of treachery and intrigue.  Under the political imagery, their actions demonstrated disloyalty to God as their King and a violation of their covenant relationship.  Hosea didn’t want to reject this imagery; he wanted to add another dimension to it. He wanted the people to see the personal effects of their actions.  He wanted to show them how God felt when they rejected him.  How God felt betrayed and hurt like a spouse whose wife has been unfaithful; in this case with numerous partners.

In this telling, Gomer suffers a period of separations and punishment before Hosea takes her back and restores their marriage relationship.  This is where we have to be careful of stretching the metaphor too far. While Hosea describes the punishment of Israel through the disciplining of his wife, these actions are not acceptable today.  In fact, we would describe them as spousal abuse.  Israel’s actions carried ramifications.  Because they turned their backs on God, they suffered the consequences of their unholy alliances.  Fortunately, God’s anger didn’t last forever, God would return and restore their relationship.  

What we need to see in this passage is God’s desire for forgiveness and restoration.   What we need to see is that it is possible to repair a broken relationship, even one involving betrayal, although it takes time.  We also need to understand that our sinful behavior causes God pain because God loves us so.

4.28.10 Wednesday Insights from Pastor Russell Brown

In order for organizations to run as smoothly as possible, they often find it useful to develop an organizational chart. This kind of chart does two things: it delineates the particular responsibilities of each person and it clearly spells out the lines of authority. With a good organizational chart, we don’t have to wonder who answers to whom and who reports to whom. It is right there in black and white.

At first glance, it appears that Paul’s motive in writing this portion of the letter to the church at Ephesus is to attempt to draw up a family “organizational chart,” especially when he uses a phrase like, “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as you are to the Lord.” (Eph. 5:22). There are many men I know of who have lifted this passage straight out of this context in the overall letter as a way of justifying a dominant status in the home. But as we invite the Spirit to guide us and as we read further, we find that Paul has something totally different in mind here.

We begin to see that rather than prescribing a family “pecking order,” Paul is recommending a posture for both husband and wife to assume in their marital relationship. The more we read of Paul’s writings, the more we see that his two overriding concerns that show up again and again are: 1.) offering believers solid guidance on the living of a godly life, and  2.) the formation of faithful communities of worship. His primary concern in addressing the question of family hierarchy here in this passage seems more directed at helping people better reflect a godly approach in ALL matters, including in their marriage relationships.

This passage brings immediately to mind the passage in Philippians in which Paul describes Christ’s character by saying, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in for form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…” (Phil. 2:5-7a). In both cases Paul is steering his readers toward a posture of humility in every relationship and encounter we have.

In each case Paul is reminding us the timeless truth of the gospel that exploded into the world’s consciousness at Easter: the absolutely counter-cultural truth that to die is to live… to lower yourself in compassion and service to another is to be exalted in the sight of God… to be poured out, or “emptied” in Paul’s words, is to be eternally filled.

Paul wants us to see that when each partner in a marriage approaches it with the mutual intention of “being subject to one another” (Eph. 5:21), we will find ourselves seeking and offering  forgiveness much more quickly than if we are concerned with maintaining “correct” lines of authority.

4.27.10 Tuesday Insights from Pastor Scott Chrostek

Just recently, a friend of mine was describing a situation wherein a disagreement at work resulted in pure divide.  A co-worker had betrayed my friend’s confidence.  He broke her trust and his actions ultimately resulted in an angry divide.

As my friend described the situation, she mentioned how at the time of betrayal (and even during the days and weeks that followed) she was unable to be around this person.  She didn’t like him, was upset by him, and really couldn’t stand to be around him, let alone forgive him, yet she knew something had to give as it was starting to take a toll on her psyche.

Avoiding her co-worker affected her productivity, so she felt that she had to do something, but what?   Though she was unable to confront him directly, her plan was to whisper a prayer under her breath every time she walked past his desk.  “God bless you,” she’d whisper as she passed by.  Over an over she did this, several times a day.  “God bless you,” she said.

As time passed, she found that something was happening.  As she prayed this prayer daily her heart and posture started to change.  By whispering God’s blessings upon her co-worker over and over again, she found that her heart began to soften and she began walking with more confidence.   Her feelings of resentment were subsiding and God’s grace was surfacing.  Eventually she got to the point where she could actually speak to her co-worker, then her anger left, and finally she was able to forgive.  She told me that the cumulative effect of whispering, of praying for her co-worker enabled her to find the peace and reconciliation she was looking for.

The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-15) is one of the first things we learn to say as Christians.  It’s one of the first things we learn to pray.  It’s on of the only things that Christ instructs his disciples to whisper by memory as often as possible.  For some it has become a daily prayer, for many it’s something we say weekly.

In Matthew 6, Jesus says to his disciples and to all of us, ‘Pray then in this way: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…”’

Can you remember the rest?

It eventually says, ‘forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.’ (I learned to pray it this way.  “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”)

Jesus instructs us to pray that as often as possible.

What would happen if you committed to praying that prayer everyday?

What would happen if you prayed that prayer and each time you did, you paused to list your debtors?

Why don’t you try it today…

“Lord, forgive me my trespasses, forgive me my debts, as I forgive (fill in the blank)”

4.26.10 Monday Insights from Darrell Holtz

Rev. Steven Blair was unavoidably detained away from his computer on Sunday evening. He asked me to pinch-hit for him on the “Insights” blog.

Today’s passage in Isaiah 55 always amazes me. The prophet starts, on God’s behalf, by offering the finest food and drink to those who are thirsty, those who have no money–free! It’s an image of the grace God offered to his people Israel (and offers to you and me as God’s people, too). Picture it–you’re hungry, thirsty, and broke. You’re gazing longingly at a McDonald’s, wondering if you could somehow talk them out of an item on the dollar menu. And then the owner of a really outstanding restaurant–I’m fond of Kokopelli, at 95th and Nall, but you can picture The Bristol, The Melting Pot or whatever your favorite is–steps out and says, “Come in! Choose anything you want from the menu. It’s all on me–it’s my gift to you.” That, says Isaiah, is the way God treats us, if we’re willing to accept it.

But sometimes we struggle with that. The prophet takes on an almost pleading tone: “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near.” It’s as though I’m on the sidewalk, hungry and penniless, saying to the restaurant owner, “I can’t accept your food–I don’t know how I’m going to pay for it.” And he says, “It’s free. It’s my gift to you. You don’t have to pay for it. Please–come in and eat. I can see how hungry you are.” And I stand there, shifting from one foot to the other, saying, “I don’t know. I’m ashamed of being hungry. Even if you want to feed me, I’m not sure I can feel right taking food from you.”

Here’s the thing I keep needing to open my heart to: when I refuse to accept God’s forgiveness, really accept it, and live as though it’s real, I’m basically saying that my standards are higher than God’s. “Sure, God can forgive me, because God’s easy–but I’m virtuous, and I can’t forgive myself.” Isn’t that a weird thing to say? But think about it. I don’t know about you, but I know that’s what I’ve said to myself, more than once. That’s my human, proud, “I want to be God” way of thinking sometimes.

Which, I think, is why the prophet ended this way: “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.'” It’s as though the Lord of the universe reads my wary thoughts, and with a patient, loving smile says, “Trust me–my ways are much higher than your ways. My thoughts are almost infinitely higher than your thoughts. And I long to forgive you. Truly I do.” Let’s feast at God’s table today.

Darrell Holtz serves as Program Director, Adult Curriculum and Writing at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection.

4.24.10 Saturday Insights from Randy Meyer

We live in a society which values the “do over.”  There are currently numerous shows on television, many of them very popular, which deal with the do over.  Shows such as “The Biggest Loser,” and “What Not to Wear,” deal with topics such as losing weight for a “new body,” or what to cover your body with that makes just the right statement and turns you into a new man or woman.  We love to watch these shows because they make us feel good when the person involved is able to develop a new outlook in their life simply by a change in their attitude and/or appearance.  There’s even a show to give us a chance for a do-over with our dogs.  In the “Dog Whisperer,” Cesar Millan teaches us how we can turn our disobedient dogs into lovable pets again.  We are told in so many ways that it is never too late to change anything, and that joy and happiness follow if we just “make that change.”

In today’s scripture, Paul writes of the “do over” of the heart.  He is addressing the early church and they have many questions about what it means to follow Christ.  I can picture someone replying to Paul and saying, “This all sounds great and everything, but you don’t know what I’ve done.  It’s too late for me, isn’t it?”  Paul’s message here is a simple one.  It is never too late to become a “new creation” in Christ.  I love this use of words.  It evokes images to me of the creation story in Genesis and the thought that no matter what I’ve done or said or thought, I can go to God, genuinely ask for a “do over,” and become a new creation in Christ.  In effect, Paul tells us that it’s never too late to become the person God created you to be.  A person our creator can look at and say “it is very good!”  Are there areas in your life that you need to bring before God and ask for a do-over?  It’s never too late to be reconciled to God.

Randy Meyer serves as Executive Director of Education Ministries at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection.

4.23.10 Friday Insights from Darren Lippe

John’s passage today provides us with 2 extremes on the spectrum of forgiveness.

First, we have the Dudley Do-Rights of the world, who feel they haven’t done anything requiring God’s forgiveness.  (Dudley Do-Right, from the cartoon series “Rocky & Bullwinkle,” was the Canadian Mountie who seemed perfect. – Editor)  Perhaps we feel that if we are true to ourselves, then nothing we do would ever fall into the category of sin.  Maybe we believe that we can always balance our ledger of any shortcomings with enough good acts to stay in harmony.  Or, as was suggested in a Disciple discussion a few years ago, perhaps we don’t want to think we’ve sinned because that might mean we would need forgiveness & thus would need God.  This would be contrary to our world-view that we are completely independent & “whole” without God.

But are these actions & attitudes really the same as being without fault?  Five or so years ago, those attending the Ash Wednesday service were presented a self-examination quiz compiled by John Wesley (founder of Methodism).  A few of the questions are noted below:

Am I a slave to dress, friends, work or habits?

Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy, or distrustful?

How do I spend my spare time?

Am I proud?

Do I grumble or complain constantly?

Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold a resentment toward or disregard?  If so what am I doing about it?

 Yipes!  Perhaps our lives aren’t quite as perfect as we might be tempted to think.

 On the other extreme, we have the Dick Dastardlys of the world who feel there is no way God can forgive them of their sins.  (Another cartoon reference?  Maybe someone should get out of the house a bit more often.  At any rate, Dick Dastardly is the inept villain with the slick black mustache from the cartoon series, “Wacky Races.” – Editor) This sin may either be something we have done or something we did not do but should have done.  Sadly, we Christians can be, at times, a bit careless with the phrase “unforgivable sin.”  This is so tempting for us, because we get to be judge & jury on what actions we feel are beyond the parameters of God’s love. 

 But does this really match the character of God?  There should always be a healthy tension between a God of love & a God of judgment.  But sometimes we can allow ourselves to limit our view of God as only being a judge of our actions.  We overlook all the occasions in the Bible where God is gleeful & full of joy when one is reconciled to Him.  Recall how He throws a banquet for the wayward son. Remember that He is thrilled when the lost sheep is returned.  And He rejoices with the discovery of the lost coin.  Our picture of God should not be limited to just a somber judge, but rather it should include a Dad sitting on the front porch eagerly yearning for that first glimpse of His returning child.

 As discussed in a Disciple class, perhaps we should picture the cross.  Perhaps in our mind’s eye, we should pretend the cross never stops.  The top of the cross extends to the heavens, beyond our sight.  The bottom of the cross extends far through the ground, without end.  The crossbar extends to the left & right where it seems to embrace our entire world.  For a person who recognizes they have fallen short, who seeks forgiveness, & who is eager to repent for his or her shortcomings, there is no way that person is beyond the reach of the power of the cross.  Rejoice!

4.22.10 Thursday Insights from Amy Otto

Another challenging and inspiring GPS today!

“See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done..” ~2 Corinthians 7:11(NIV)

According to the GPS, counselor Bruce Narramore calls godly sorrow “constructive sorrow.” As I read 2 Corinthians 7:11, I can understand what he means by “constructive sorrow”. It is like constructive criticism; something we don’t want to hear but need to hear to improve ourselves. In the case of godly sorrow we are moved to make changes, get back on track and close the gap we have, sometimes unintentionally, built between us and God.

I also understand worldly sorrow and its influence in my life. World sorrow causes me to hold on to guilt and shame – to continually punish myself. The problem with worldly sorrow is it stops me from moving forward and healing. Pastor Steven Blair once said to me, “We all have things we are ashamed of, issues with ourselves that we try to hide locked up in ourselves. But when we can bring them out and let them sit in the living room of our hearts with us for the world to see, then we can heal and grow.”

Through others, situations, and our hearts God convicts us and helps us turn around and get back on the path. When we listen and follow, our relationship with him grows, our energy and excitement is re-ignited for Him. We look back and see growth and progress instead of shame and guilt. We recognize God’s work in our lives.

Amy Otto serves on the Student Ministries staff at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection.

4.21.10 Wednesday Insights from Pastor Nicole Conard

One of the Pharisees, Simon, invited Jesus over to dinner.  We can stop the story there and put ourselves into it. Remember a time when you invited an honored guest to your house.  At my house, I must confess it is a big to do. The preparations, cleaning, grocery shopping, making sure everything is just right.  Then the time comes and you hope all goes well – good food, good conversation, a good time.

Can you imagine Simon’s amazement when ‘a woman who had lived a sinful life’ just happened to show up at his house because she heard Jesus would be there?  She not only comes but weeps at his feet, and wet Jesus’ feet with her tears.  If I was the Pharisee, I would be mortified.

Simon said as much. Jesus teaches Simon about forgiveness.  Using the money illustration, forgiveness makes sense.  Jesus forgave her debt and Jesus forgave Simon’s debt equally.  Jesus brings honor to the woman and washes her clean.

We are both Simon and the woman. There are times in life where we can identify with either one of them. But, we know in God’s eyes, we are the same. The same debt, the same cleansing, the same forgiveness. 

There is nothing special about who we are. What is special is God’s grace for us.  Help us to not forget that today.

4.20.10 Tuesday Insights from Pastor Molly Simpson

Psalm 130–can you relate?  Have you ever felt this repentant, this broken up over something you have said or done?

It’s pretty miserable to have hurt the ones we love because of our mistakes.  As I have developed a deeper and closer relationship with Christ through the years, I’ve found that the times I feel the worst are the times that I’m aware that I’ve disappointed God with my behavior or choices which cause me to sin.  I get the “out of the depths I call to you…”

What is so beautiful is that the psalmist is keenly aware of their need for forgiveness and is also confidently trusting that the Lord will grant that forgiveness.  The psalmist is so confident in God’s mercy that they even call upon others, the people of Israel, to seek God’s forgiveness.  Do you trust in God’s willingness to forgive?  I find that the more I trust in God’s mercy and forgiveness, the more readily I am to recognize my own sin, to turn from it, and to ask for forgiveness.

It’s so good to have a merciful God.  Oh that we could all be a bit more like that too!