Monthly Archives: May 2010

5.31.10 Monday Insights from Pastor Andrew Conard

The story in the second chapter of Esther seems very foreign to me as one living in 2010 in the United States. The whole set up just doesn’t seem right. In the midst of these difficult circumstances, the GPS reminds us that Esther is able to exhibit many of the wisdom qualities found in Proverbs. It seems that this is only possible through the power of God at work in Esther. I believe that God’s strength allowed her to live out the qualities of  loyalty, cautious speech and valuing inner beauty. The same is true for us today, allowing God to be at work in our lives will allow us to live as his followers.

Today is Memorial Day, during which we remember and honor those who have lost their lives in military service. While I do not have an immediate family member who has lost their life in the armed forces, it is a meaningful day for me. My prayer for those who have lost loved ones and for those that currently serve is that each one might live out of God’s strength for their lives. For with God’s guidance, we are able to live wisely.

5.29.10 Saturday Insights from Mary Jones

Three things strike me as I read the three scriptures we are given today.

  1. Something inside me is proud of these women who would go to Jesus’ tomb on this very important day.  Are they going because it is safer for them to go than for their male counterparts? Maybe.  Or perhaps it is because they listened to and followed the tug in their hearts.  I am proud of these women who may have been venturing beyond what is safe so they could do what is right.
  2. God sent a comforter to sustain them in the difficult moment they found themselves in. That extraordinary moment was when they  realized that the words of scripture and of Jesus were indeed coming true, and that they were the ones to witness that reality. In one passage it is a young man/angel and the other adds Jesus to the mix.  This remains as true today as it was then. Look around you and you will see how God is the Comforter by your side in many ways–your   family, friends and co-workers, those you serve with, through scripture, via our pastors and congregational care ministers, and most of all through His very presence. Today I will be praying for my friend Bruce and his family, who will be standing by his mother’s bedside as they remove life support from his Mom. I am so thankful for our church family and for the ways the Holy Spirit has worked in his life so that he knows God’s comfort.
  3. The JOY of this story! This is what it’s all about, folks.  God became incarnate that we might know Him, and  paid for our sins so that we may have relationship with Him.  It’s all going in the right direction from here, no matter what ‘difficult moments’ you are presented with.

Have a joyful Memorial Day weekend!

Mary Jones serves as Connections Ministry Program Director at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection.

5.28.10 Friday Insights from Darren Lippe

As we reflect on today’s passage, I was struck by how unusual it must have looked to the religious leaders of the day that Jesus’ band of believers included women. As we recall, women were viewed mostly as property or chattel, with no human rights and few opportunities to be treated in a dignified manner. As I contemplated these remarkably strong women, I was drawn to the story of Sojourner Truth from our Christian Hero class.

Isabella Baumfree was born into slavery circa 1797 in the state of New York. Her mother instilled in her a great faith in God. “My children, there is a God who hears & sees you. He lives in the sky & when you fall into trouble or are mistreated or beaten, you must ask His help & He will always hear & help you.” Isabella was taught to obey & to say the Lord’s Prayer daily. She became a believer when God revealed Himself to her and she exclaimed, “God, how big You be!” She later recounted that, “she saw Jesus and saw Him smile. I’ve never seen another smile like it in all my life.”

After successfully suing for her freedom, Isabella moved to New York City and joined the oldest Methodist church in America. But she was frustrated. All of her efforts to help others see Christ seemed to fall short. She then prayed & heard God tell her to travel & tell others her story about Jesus & the cause of freedom. She didn’t think Isabella was an appropriate name for a free, woman preacher, so, recalling Psalm 39:12, she changed her name to Sojourner. (She later referred to John 8:32 for her last name.)

In her travels & during her speeches urging the end of slavery, she crossed paths with great abolitionists like Frederick Douglass & William Garrison as well as great female leaders like Harriet Beecher Stowe & Susan B. Anthony. The emphasis of her speeches began to evolve from just ending slavery to “equal rights for all, without distinction of sex or color.”

Interestingly, speaking about women’s rights was more controversial than speaking on the abolishment of slavery. At a Women’s Rights conference in 1851 in Akron, Ohio she encountered this resistance in the form of a panel of four respected clergy speaking about the differences between men and women. One minister noted that men deserved greater rights & privileges because they were more intelligent than women. A 2nd pastor spoke & noted that, “Men should rule over women because Jesus Christ was a man.” Another preacher told the convention that women had a lower status because Eve had committed the original sin in the Garden of Eden. Finally, the last clergyman described how women were born inferior to men because they needed to have a man hold the door open to them.

Sojourner, who was not scheduled to speak, was sitting outside the doors listening to the speeches & enjoying the breeze. She got up, took off her hat & walked inside to the podium. The audience sat upright in nervous anticipation. Some of the audience members were visibly upset by the clergymen’s arguments. Others were concerned that Sojourner might be too fiery & the newspaper reporters would view the women at the conference as “agitators & troublemakers.” Below is an excerpt of Sojourner’s rebuttal:

“Ain’t I woman? No one has ever offered me a better seat or opened a door for me. Look at my arms! And ain’t I a woman? What does intelligence have to do with rights? Nothing. Where did your Christ come from? From God & a woman. Man had nothing to do with the birth of Christ. If the 1st woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down, all alone, these together (gesturing to the women in the audience) ought to be able to turn it back & get it right side up again. Old Sojourner hasn’t got nothing more to say.”

The crowd rose as one in applause.

Jesus set before us a standard of love that 2,000 years later we are still struggling to emulate. May we forgive those before us (and among us) who have fallen short of Christ’s challenging teaching of love & respect for all His children. And may we ask for forgiveness for the times we, ourselves, have failed to match His desires in our own faith journey.

5.27.10 Thursday Insights from Pastor Penny Ellwood

When tragedy strikes it so often leaves us with unanswered questions and a myriad of emotions. I’m sure that Mary and Martha emotions were mixed when they saw Jesus.  The fact that Martha stayed at the house instead of meeting Jesus may have been telling itself.  I cannot imagine that there would not have been some resentment and anger mixed in their sorrow that Jesus hadn’t shown up before their brother died.  Scripture reveals their belief that Jesus could have healed their brother had he come in time. 

 So often grieving Christians feel guilty about the emotions they have toward God after the death of someone they love or a tragedy strikes.  While we’re grateful after a death that our loved ones are with God, and we trust that he is present with us through all things, we still hurt.    

When Jesus’  friend Lazarus died he cried and was deeply troubled.  John 11:33 tells us that Jesus’ emotions were in turmoil.  Jesus’ own actions at the grave of his friend Lazarus give us permission to be human in our grief.

In a sense, our display of emotions is an act of faith.  We are trusting God to hold us in our most vulnerable time. Max Lucado says that stories like this one “are historical moments in which a real God met real pain so we could answer the question, “Where is God when I hurt?”  No matter what we’re going through, God is with us every step of the way.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, and he saves those whose spirits have been crushed.                    Psalm 34:18.

5.26.10 Wednesday Insights from Pastor Russell Brown

Outdoorspeople tell us that we will never encounter a more fierce animal than a mother defending her young. I suspect that almost all of us, if we were to see our children in danger or suffering, would find incredible reserves of strength and courage available to come to the aid of our children. The woman in today’s Bible story (referred to only as “… a Canaanite woman”, v. 22) demonstrates not only remarkable persistence, but also courage. In securing a healing blessing for her daughter, this woman actually dares to hold Jesus’ feet to the fire a bit. The first time I clearly understood all the dimensions of what is happening here, I was astonished! A woman (strike one!), of Gentile descent (strike two!), correcting and rebuking Jesus, “King of King, Lord of Lords” (strike three and YER OUT!)

Jesus initially refuses the woman’s request to come and heal her daughter, saying, “It is not fair to take the children’s [the children of Israel] food [Jesus’ healing power] and throw it to the dogs [the Gentiles].” (v. 26). Hurt, disappointed, and certainly frustrated that she has not persuaded the great Judean healer to minister to her daughter, the woman presses her case with a humble, and yet faithful answer to Jesus’ objection. In return, Jesus takes pity on the woman and the daughter is healed [“Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” v. 28].

People have puzzled over the attitude they see Jesus displaying in this passage of scripture. His first response to the woman indicates that he sees his ministry as focusing exclusively on the people he calls, “… the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (v. 24) And yet this is the same Jesus we heard tell the story of the good Samaritan who stopped to minister to the man who was robbed… the same Jesus who opened the eyes of the Samaritan woman at the well and helped her see the availability of God’s mercy, regardless of the state of her marriage and life… the same Jesus who continuously reaches out to lepers, prostitutes, and others who are cast aside by mainstream society.

Maybe Jesus was having a bad day. Maybe Jesus was only pretending to be narrow-minded and xenophobic in order to make a powerful point to the disciples. Maybe Jesus had one of those “human moments” we all run into when we need the perspective of another person to help us see beyond a preconceived notion.

Whatever the underlying reason for this odd encounter, it clearly serves to demonstrate that God’s mercy knows no boundaries. If Jesus can relearn this lesson, can we be any less open to being reminded of it, too?

5.25.10 Tuesday Insights from Pastor Scott Chrostek

Sarah was watching them, Ishmael (Hagar’s son) and Isaac her own.  There they were playing together, and as she watched them it simply got to the point where it was too much.  She couldn’t handle it anymore. So, she banishes Hagar and Ishmael to the desert.  “Leave and never come back!” she says.  Sarah gives them a skin of water, Hagar takes it, and together they leave, mother and son, walking until the water runs out.

Could you imagine being Hagar when the water finally did run out?  Could you imagine being a place where there was no place to go, nobody to turn to, no way to get help.  Hagar had nothing but the eyes of her thirsty child to look at?   She was must have been so full of fear.  In fact, she was so scared that she stopped seeing anything.  Her hope was lost.

In one of the most gruesome moments in scripture, Hagar places her young son, Ishmael in a bush in the middle of a desert to fend for himself.   I don’t even like to picture it.  A young mother setting her son down in a bush with a kiss. “Don’t worry Ishmael, I’ll be right over there,” and then she walks away, quietly sobbing, “Lord please do not let me look upon the death of my child.”

Hagar makes it about 50 yards, just a bow shot away, and sits down facing that bush, facing her boy with the intentions of waiting out death.  The scene is almost unthinkable…and then God intervenes.

Despite our doubt, despite our fear, despite our circumstance in life, Hagar’s story reminds us that God continues to see and hear us.

God hears the boy crying and God sees Hagar in distress.  God sends an angel to speak with them, to issue them a promise.  “Do not be afraid Hagar; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. So come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.’

In an instant, God opened Hagar’s eyes, changed her perspective, and filled her with a promise.  Hagar saw a well of water and received the gift of life.

No matter where you might be right now, know that God both sees and hears you.  God intervenes, sends angels to speak with you, to comfort you, to lead you, and to show you peace, hope, and most importantly the promise of salvation through Jesus Christ!

5.24.10 Monday Insights from Pastor Steven Blair

How are you Sarah?
How are you Hagar?

On May15th and 16th, Pastor Adam Hamilton quoted Brian McLaren by referring to the “trajectory of Scripture.” Occasionally, we find Scriptures that are problematic because they condone slavery (Philemon) or tell a banished woman to “go back to [her] mistress and submit to her” (Genesis 16:9).  The culture surrounding the Bible was heavily patriarchal and accepted slavery as a natural and unquestioned part of life. The “trajectory of Scripture” has been to move towards the freedom and equality of all people.

In Galatians 3:28, we see that there are no longer “male or female, Jew or Greek, slave or free.”  In today’s Scripture, we see that this banished woman is a pregnant, Egyptian slave, named Hagar, banished by Abraham’s wife Sarah.  Here we see the trajectory of Scripture in Hagar’s description of God as “The God who sees me” (16:13).  God does not abandon the vulnerable Hagar.  God sees her, hears Hagar’s cry, and promises prosperity to her through her son Ishmael.  This Scripture tells us that God sees and cares for the vulnerable people who others devalue.

The Scripture presents God as a God of compassion.  It also presents a couple questions for us to apply to our life:
1) How are you Sarah?  Sarah becomes jealous of Hagar when Hagar becomes pregnant, blaming her for being haughty.  In what ways are you like Sarah?  Who are the Hagar’s in your life who you devalue because of their success, their promotion, their social status?
2) How are you like Hagar?  Knowing what you know about God … how have you experienced God “seeing you.”  If you feel invisible, how does this Scripture change that for you?  If you are vulnerable and feeling abandoned right now, how does this story of God’s provision sound like Good News to you?

In some way, are we all a bit like Sarah and a bit like Hagar?  This Scripture challenges the Sarah inside of us and comforts the Hagar.  God is a God of compassion, with eyes and provision for the vulnerable.  It is a challenging and comforting message.

Steven Blair serves as Pastor of Congregational Care for those with last names beginning with M-R at The Church of the Resurrection.

5.22.10 Saturday Insights from Alison Ebright

I can only imagine what Paul must have been thinking as he penned these (now famous) words to the church.  It had only been a few decades since Jesus was on the scene, preaching an extraordinary vision of the Kingdom of God–in which the least shall be first, enemies are to be loved, and the poor are blessed.  But more, he brilliantly cast this vision a step further than just “inclusivity”–he preached “family.”  Children of a Father God.  Incredible.

But of course, even in the midst of studying such remarkable teachings about this Kingdom, the people in Galatia defaulted to what we as humans seem to do best: dividing, and with that, judging.  Rather than put in the extra work to foster unity, it was easier to fall back into societal segregations. For them, the big one was Jews vs. Greeks.  Then slaves vs. free.  And as we heard in last week’s sermon, male vs. female.

Two thousand years may have passed, but I’m pretty sure we’re still pros at making these distinctions.  For us, maybe it’s Democrats vs. Republicans, or KU vs. Mizzou, or “thinkers” vs. “feelers,” or rich vs. poor.  We’ve even managed to divide the Church into tens of thousands of denominations–yikes!  Without a doubt, we each have our own lists of people we struggle to accept, and those lists have the potential to bring out the worst in each of us.  So it’s our daily challenge to resist making calls on “who is the greatest.”

But this is the beauty of being “clothed in Christ”–in Him, there’s always redemption.  In Him, the distinctions that have the potential to divide also have the potential to create something stunningly rich, beautiful and whole.  In Him, we’re offered a radical new vision of unity that can absolutely rock this world for good.

In him, each of us–who turn away time and again–are the ones HE chooses to unite with and call “family.” Hallelujah.

So take a moment and honestly consider those individuals or people groups you may (consciously or subconsciously) struggle to embrace as family.  How could your feelings or interactions change if you viewed them as brothers and sisters?  Pray to be “clothed in Christ” this week, and that those around you could indeed “know you’re a Christian by your love.”

Alison Ebright serves as Contemporary Music Vocal Program Director at The Church of the Resurrection.

5.21.10 Friday Insights from Darren Lippe

Throughout history we’ve come to know all sorts of famous couples:  Ferdinand & Isabella, Julius Caesar & Cleopatra, & Fred & Wilma.  Our focus for today is on another couple we should get to know, Priscilla & Aquila.

I recall the Disciple 1 class my wife, Doris, and I took a few years ago.  Our class was reviewing the soap opera-esque scene of David, Bathsheba & Uriah – some might entitle, “As Jerusalem Turns.”

A Reader’s Digest version of the story could go like this:  Uriah is off at war.  King David covets Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba.  She becomes pregnant with David’s child.  David re-calls his general, Uriah, back from the front lines to hang out with Bathsheba & cloud the paternity issue.  Uriah unwittingly foils David’s plan & opts to say with the troops.  David successfully contrives a way for Uriah to die in battle.

One of our discussion questions asked us to characterize the main players in the drama. That week, by chance, our groups were divvied up male & female. As we men-folk (picture a collection of Colonel Mustards in the drawing room with their pipes) chatted about Uriah, we universally came to the conclusion that he was a “stand up guy.”  He didn’t take the easy way out.  “No sir!”  He could have enjoyed all of the comforts of home, but he opted to sleep on the hard ground with his troops.  A “man’s man.”  “Very admirable.”  “By jove, he had the stuff of true leadership.”  We then sat back, nodding our heads, rather assured in our assessment of Uriah.  (If we smoked pipes, we would have started puffing rather contentedly.)

But then the ladies of the group began to counter our well-thought-out & man-of-the-world opinion.  “Uriah was a cad!”  He had a brief leave from the war.  There was no guarantee that he would ever return from the front.  He was given the option to be at home with his wife.  “He chose to ditch her & stay at work?  Reprehensible!”  He should have taken advantage of this opportunity to be with his wife & see her.  “His behavior was abominable!”

Huh.  (Pipes are slowly being put away.)

It was then that I began to fully appreciate the understated beauty & simple brilliance of the Biblical example of Priscilla & Aquila.  How fun it must have been to be included in a group led by two passionate, well-informed teachers intellectually jousting with each other to bring Jesus’ teachings into focus.

I keep thinking of the proverbial phrase, “iron sharpens iron.” When we bring to the forefront multiple perspectives, ala Priscilla & Aquila, we develop a much sharper, a much stronger conclusion.  (Note:  From our slightly embellished example from Disciple 1 class described above, I suspect an accurate picture of Uriah would be a blend of the two viewpoints.)

Before we leave our reading, I think we can reach the following conclusions:

Priscilla must have been an awesome teacher.  Stereotypes didn’t mean anything to her.  She was intelligent & focused all of her talents on helping others to come to know Christ.  I think one could make a case that she must have been a whirlwind of energy & passion.  She would have been a force at any time in history.

I would also submit that Aquila was a man of unique & strong character.  He wasn’t threatened by Priscilla’s faith or passion.  He obviously cheered on her development as a teacher.  He was probably mocked & teased by other men in the community for letting his wife be seen as his equal.  Yet, I don’t think he paid them any attention.  He was an amazing man of his generation.

May we find encouragement in our own faith walk & our own relationships from this remarkable pair of individuals.

5.20.10 Thursday Insights from Amy Otto

This is not the most exciting passage in the Bible. There is no traveling, no fight scenes, no powerful speeches. Yet this passage is jam packed with enlightenment, especially about the role of women in the early church.

Paul dedicates the first two verses in Romans 16 to greeting and praising Phoebe, a servant in the church in Cenchreae; a woman in the church. Not only does Paul praise and greet Phoebe first, but he makes a charge to the Romans that they are to welcome and help her as well. In the English Standard Version and the New International Version the beginning of verse 2 reads, “…that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints….” Wow, we are to welcome Phoebe as we would welcome a saint–what a powerful thought. Historically women have not held in positions of leadership or authority. To command respect as a woman meant to be a good and loyal wife, take care of the children, the home and so forth. This acknowledgement showed the Romans the deep respect and trust that Paul placed on Phoebe. Most Bible students believe she was mentioned first because Paul had trusted her to carry his letter to Rome.

Following Paul’s introduction of Phoebe to the Romans he mentions several more women. Each time he mentions these women he references their hard work in the Lord, continually pointing out to the Romans that women can and do play key roles in the church. This is a good reminder for us even today. Depending on our past and our early experiences in the church, we may not be used to seeing women in leadership or pastoral roles in the church. As the body of Christ, we need to recognize the gifts of all Christians, as each of us has a ministry for the Lord no matter if we are a man or a woman, old or young.  Because, as Paul shows us, it isn’t about gender but about letting God use us to share the good news of Jesus Christ to the world.

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