Monthly Archives: February 2011

2.28.11 Monday Insights from Rev. Cayce Stapp

The GPS for today refers to the question posed in the final verse of Jeremiah 8: “Is there no balm in Gilead?”  The Message translation asks the question this way: “For my dear broken people, I’m heartbroken. I weep, seized by grief. Are there no healing ointments in Gilead? Isn’t there a doctor in the house? So why can’t something be done to heal and save my dear, dear people?” (Jeremiah 8:21-22)

The GPS for today specifically asks, “In what ways has God’s presence been a healing balm in your life?” Strangely enough, God’s presence as a healing balm in my life has often come through Jeremiah. With all of the prophetic judgment and seeming condemnation in Jeremiah, that might seem a bit odd. However, it was four years ago that Jeremiah 8 brought consolation instead of condemnation, and peace where there simply was no peace.

On Valentine’s Day 2007, I flew home to Clarksville, TN to make the final decision regarding my father’s life. After what had become weeks, respirators were barely keeping him alive, and at 6 feet, 2 inches tall, he weighed just over 100 pounds. I knew God was with me, present in ways I can only imagine, but in my father’s dying, life was difficult, and Jeremiah 8: 18 (The Message) said it all: “I drown in grief. I’m heartsick. Oh, listen! Please listen!” For a myriad of family reasons, the decision to take my father off the respirator fell to me, and that night as his life slowly faded away, we gathered around my father’s bed in the ICU, and recited the 23rd Psalm. It was beautiful, it was terrible. It simply was.

As expected, in the weeks that followed folks offered condolences, letters, cards, calls and visits. I was grateful, but there was little peace. As I tried to listen, little comfort came. As I preached the following Sunday, the words did not come easily, but through God’s presence of grace, they came. Those around me were kind and understanding, but grief is a strange thing, and it was only in the next week that it all set in. It was only in the next week that I found Jeremiah 8, or maybe I should say, it found me.

Up to this point, I had yet to shed a tear. The world continued to turn. Life went on, but I continued to beat myself up because I had found little peace. Through a friend, a stretcher-bearer in my life, Jeremiah found me. He understood, and in verse 11, he brought an unexpected balm, saying, “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.” Or hear it another way in The Message: “My dear Daughter – my people – broken, shattered, and yet they put on band-aids, saying, ‘It’s not so bad.  You’ll be just fine.’ But things are not ‘just fine.’”

Sometimes, there simply is no peace. There are no words of comfort that can be said, no trite expressions, no witty quips, nothing. In these moments (when they come, because they will come), my hope and prayer for us all is that we each may allow God’s presence to be healing in our life. In these moments when peace eludes, there is a balm in Gilead. When we cannot seem to find it, may it find us. May God’s presence be with us, within us, behind us, beneath us, and before us…this day and all days. Amen.

Rev. Cayce Stapp serves as the Beyond KC Missions Pastor at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection.

2.26.11 Saturday Insights from Chuck Russell

Predicting the end of the world has been a favorite pastime since humans have been recording their thoughts, so I am always a bit skeptical when I begin to hear tales of our imminent demise.

I remember, growing up, being deathly afraid that we were all going to be killed in a nuclear holocaust. Countless movies were made with such a premise but the movie that instilled the greatest fear in me was the somewhat polemical “The Day After,” which chronicled the aftermath of all-out atomic warfare through the eyes of midwesterners in Lawrence, Kansas. Later an article in Discover magazine that suggested we were heading into a new ice age spooked me.

More recently, spurred on, I think, by the dystopian visions of the Mayan prophecies, there has been a spate of History Channel and Discovery Channel explorations of the potential for cataclysmic volcanic eruptions in Yellowstone, or life ending asteroids from deep space, etc. Wherever we turn, there seems to be a fascination with how it will all end.

As Christians, however, we really shouldn’t get caught up in all the hype. I mean, yes, disasters of all sorts, both man made and natural, can and will affect our lives, but our story, the Christian story, tells us that no matter what happens Jesus is Lord of all. While the history of interpretation of the book of Revelation is frankly a complicated mess, there is one thing virtually all who read it agree upon. Revelation is reminding us that God is in control, Christ is on the throne, and those of us who are his people will be with him forever.

So here is the thing for me: there are a thousand ways the End of Time could go down. What is important is that we believe:
1) that the end is in fact coming. (Perhaps not in our lifetime, or perhaps even before this reflection hits the World Wide Web.) But the end is coming and we should order our lives appropriately.
2) that the same God who sent his Son to die a brutal and bloody death on a Roman cross for our sins, is sending him back to lead the armies of God in a final consummation.

These two truths ring out clearly from our collective story, and should imbue us with somber reflection and a quiet confidence: that we are not only ready to meet our maker, but we look forward to his coming!

Chuck Russell serves as Catalyst Communication Director at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection.

2.25.11 Friday Insights from Darren Lippe

To better understand today’s reading, I thought we might visit with Mr. G. Roe the head chef at the restaurant, “A Taste of Greece.” (Trust me, the name is an accurate description of its cuisine – Editor.)

DL:  If Paul is addressing the tension of living a life in Christ while in the midst of a community of non-Christians, then why do you think he goes at length discussing food? 

G. Roe:  Food is the great common denominator.  Everyone needs to eat, whether they are rich/poor, male/female, or tall/short.  Thus, the most common time for this conflict to arise would naturally be during meals.

DL:  What was Corinth like for the diner “out on the town” back then?

G. Roe:  A Zagat restaurant guide back in the time of Corinth might describe the restaurant scene like this:  There would be a large number of temples dedicated to various pagan gods (small g) & even some human rulers.  People would bring in animals to sacrifice to these gods; some of the meat would be eaten in the temple, some of the leftovers would be taken back home with the family, & some of the excess would be taken to the market & sold in the routine way.  Thus, a huge percentage of meat consumed in Corinth would have probably been dedicated to some pagan or human god. 

DL:  So a devout Christian, wanting to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, might skip meat altogether.

G. Roe:  Right.  But is Paul suggesting that we should just completely isolate ourselves from our community?

DL:  Actually, I don’t think Paul is trying to issue a blanket edict or law banning the consumption of meat in Corinth.  I would submit that Paul is urging us to use reason to determine the best course of action.  He doesn’t want Christians to live behind figurative walls.  After all, you wouldn’t be very persuasive trying to tell someone the Good News while standing behind some huge gate.

Consider the Essene community of Qumran.  (Some scholars suggest this group had a hand in the creation & preservation of the Dead Sea Scrolls that were on display at Union Station in 2007. – Editor) This was a devout group of Jews that desired to live in a commune lifestyle separate from the world.  They tended to be self-sufficient & sought to avoid all forms of temptations.  Now, while this community is praying for the coming Messiah, Jesus, the Son of God, spends 3 years walking around & teaching about the Kingdom of God just 60 miles away.  Because they had shut themselves off from the world, they missed out on the fulfillment of God’s greatest promise.

G. Roe:  So what does this mean for us today?

DL:  I would contend that we could & should be a part of our community.  However, we would need to be clear (to ourselves & others) that our participation does not necessarily equate to approval.  For example, we can enjoy the Harry Potter series without endorsing the belief of wizards or wizardry.  Or we can play a game of solitaire without favoring the legendary symbolism of the deck of cards.

G. Roe:  So if I want to celebrate Halloween & dress up in a powder-blue tuxedo with the ruffled shirt & velvety bow tie & go as “Mr. Wonderful,” then I’m not endorsing an underworld of witches & goblins?

DL:  Um.  I can’t think of anything scarier.  Go for it.

2.24.11 Thursday Insights from Pastor Glen Shoup

When you think about it, it really is amazing beyond words: The God of everything has chosen (because of relentless love for us) to Self-disclose.  And that Self-disclosure, that Self-revelation, that Self-description is the person of Jesus Christ. A seminary professor of mine named Rob Staples made a statement in Systematic Theology class that I’ve never forgotten. Dr. Staples said, “God is not confined in Jesus Christ, but God is defined in Jesus Christ.”  That succinct statement conveys the very heartbeat of what St. Paul is trying to get across in today’s reading.  Everything that is essential in knowing Who God is, and What God wants, and What God is like—everything essential to knowing the mind of God and the heart of God and the perspective of God is given to us in Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ is the very essence of God. Of course, this assertion didn’t start with St. Paul, but with Jesus Himself: … “if you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the father”(John 14:9).

This is why Paul wanted so passionately for the young churches he established to keep growing in their knowledge of Jesus. This is why it is so crucial for us to know, and then keep growing, in our knowledge of Jesus. To know Jesus is to know God. Apart from knowing Jesus, one cannot fully know God.  So Jesus is our filter, our barometer on every other truth we come to know.  If what we’re communicating or planning is not consistent with Jesus, than it ought to stop.  This seems to be what Paul is saying in verse 8 of our reading.  In Christ, the fullness of God dwells…in the flesh (vs 9).

A few years ago, a group of folks began to identify themselves as “Red-letter” Christians (in case you’re not aware, many Bibles have the words of Jesus in red, hence the name). I don’t know that I’d subscribe to everything that group is about (I don’t know that I wouldn’t, I just don’t know that I would either…that’s my disclaimer). But I do like their name. Every one of us should be a person who seeks to know, align ourself with, and follow after the only true God of whom Jesus is an exact representation (Hebrews 1:3).  It’s amazing to think that we get to know the God Who created the entire cosmos and is the author of time and space. It’s even more amazing to think that this God has chosen to make Himself fully known to us in Jesus Christ. But Paul said that’s exactly what happened.

Pastor Glen Shoup serves as Pastor of Congregational Care (last names A-C) at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection.

2.23.11 Wednesday Insights from Pastor Russell Brown

A few days ago I read an article in TIME magazine that set off a couple of different reactions for me; it both made me stop and think and also sent chills up and down my spine. It was the cover story of the February 14, 2011 issue on the subject of the phenomenon some observers are calling The Singularity. At first glance I thought it was something straight out of the fertile imagination of someone like Stephen Spielberg or Rod Serling. As I read further, however, I realized there are people who take this concept very, very seriously and believe in it.

The Singularity  is a theory – based on informed projections and exhaustive research – that suggests that at a certain point in the future, computers and automation will possess an intelligence that far surpasses all human intelligence combined. We all know that computers are getting smarter and smarter every day. Not only that, but the RATE at which they are getting smarter is also increasing. And so it does not really take a lot of exotic speculation to conclude that machines will in fact one day be smarter than people. The article went on to ask, when we finally arrive at that point, what will happen? How will life be different? Will computers turn on us, ala The Terminator, or will they serve as our docile and benevolent allies? 

Seting the table for all of these speculations, the provocative title Time gave this story was: “2045: The Year Humanity Becomes Obsolete.”

As thought provoking as this is to ponder, I wonder if this entire realm of speculation isn’t just a great case of Missing the Point Entirely. The assumption underlying this entire theory seems to be that it is our capacity for thought that makes humans human. Right now in 2011, or so the Singularity theory goes, we have an “edge” because our brains are so much more sophisticated than any computer. But when we lose that edge, we lose everything.

I believe that what happened to Paul on the Damascus road (in our scripture reading for today) is something that could not possibly happen to even the most sophisticated computer in the world. Why? Because Paul’s conversion was not a matter of  a change or even just a huge improvement of his process of thought. When we read about Paul being struck blind and then having his sight miraculously restored, we see the true miracle of total transformation. Paul suddenly saw the world with new eyes! “In the twinkling of an eye” as the Bible says, up was down, dark was light, right was wrong, and wrong was right. What he saw and HOW he saw was radically different in the aftermath of encountering Jesus!

That is what can happen to each of us when we call Jesus our Lord and Savior. Nothing about our outward circumstances may change in the slightest. But EVERYTHING will most definitely be transformed. It is a transformation that does change our thinking, to be sure. But it also changes the very way we see the world.

And somehow, I think you have to actually have a soul in order to experience that kind of total transformation.

Rev. Russell Brown, Pastor of Support Ministries
russell.brown@cor.org
Direct: (913) 544-0219

2.22.11 Tuesday Insights from Pastor Molly Simpson

I read our passage for today.  Then I re-read it.  And again.  I was having a bit of a difficult time trying to figure out what Peter was saying.  And who he was saying it to.  And when.

And then I remembered one of the most basic principles of hermeneutics (fancy word for interpreting the text)… CONTEXT.  Sometimes, the section of scripture that pops up on the iPhone or drops in your inbox isn’t going to tell you everything you need to know to understand it.  Often, it is immensely helpful to take a look at the text that comes immediately before or after your pericope (fancy word for a passage from a book).  Ask yourself:

-what is written before this passage?  after it?  are these texts related?  is there a progression of action or events that I would miss if I hadn’t examined the surrounding verses?

-who is present in this scene?  who speaks?  who listens?

-where are they?  is there anything particular about the location of this scene? 

-when is it?  (time of day, month, season, time in relation to theological events)

Add your own questions.  Look around and see what you find.

So after I decided to take a look beyond today’s reading, I noticed that this passage comes on the day of Pentecost.  This strange event happens when the Holy Spirit comes, people begin speaking in different languages, and yet the Jews hear them as if they are speaking their own language.   They are confused and inquire.  Peter begins explaining and ultimately preaching a sermon about the true identity of Jesus.  He helps people understand who Jesus is in relationship to their prophets and leaders.  He tells them, “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

And if you read on, you discover that the people are moved by Peter’s bold proclamation.  Thousands of them put their faith in Jesus that day.  

So now ask yourself, confronted by Peter’s bold challenge, how would you have felt?

Rev. Molly Simpson is the Campus Pastor at Resurrection’s West campus in Olathe. 

2.21.11 Monday Insights from Pastor Steven Blair

A picture says a thousand words.

A Scripture shows a thousand pictures.

A camera on a zipline could zoom to different people in this scene at the Lake of Gennesaret.  A close-up on the crowd may reveal this Jesus story to be one of intrigue as hundreds wonder: “Who is this guy?”  An in-depth view of James and John would undoubtedly discuss their sacrifice to leave their nets and follow Jesus.   With the controls on the camera, I find myself looking deeply into Peter’s moment of colossal epiphany of moving from “Master” to “Lord.”

This change of titles can seem small. The terms “Master” and “Lord” are quite interchangeable in our culture.  But the difference in Jesus’ time was massive.  Master could refer to any number of people who have some authority over you.  Lord was a name largely reserved for the Caesar himself.  Roman political propaganda stated and restated that “Caesar is Lord.”  Upon seeing Jesus’ small act of fishing wisdom (coupled with his words of teaching), Peter made a gigantic leap of faith.  Jesus was more than just a wise man with authority over him, Jesus’ power and grandeur rivaled the Caesar himself.

This one word choice beckons a response of discipleship from us.  How often do we view Jesus as “Master?” How often do we view him as a person with authority, some great life lessons, possibly even wiser than a Dr. Phil or another author?

What would happen if we took the same leap of faith that Peter took? What if we believed that Jesus not only rivaled but exceeded the glory and power of the greatest people around?  Jesus is Lord and Hollywood is not, our favorite political leader is not, our boss is not.

What would this Peter-like jump look like for you?How would your life be different if you made this jump of faith?

Steven Blair serves as Pastor of Congregational Care ( last names M-R) at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection.

2.19.11 Saturday Insights from Clif Guy

Jeremiah 23:1-8 begins with the passionate rebuke, “Woe to the shepherds [of my people]!”  We don’t use the word “woe” in everyday speech.  In modern English it would be something like, “You shepherds [of my people] are going to suffer a disaster!”  Or, “You shepherds [of my people] are doomed!”  Yikes!  That is strong language.  God was angry.

Who were the “shepherds” of this passage with whom God was so angry?  The Hebrew word can also be translated as “pastors.”  So I thought this was referring to the religious leaders of Jeremiah’s day.  However, when read in the context of the previous chapters it seems clear that Jeremiah meant the kings, who were not only religious leaders, but political and military leaders as well.

God said he would punish the leaders because they had not taken care of the people (vs. 2).  Their evil deeds had resulted in the people being scattered to foreign lands and God was intent on saving them and bringing them back home (vs. 3).  God would do this by putting a righteous, just, and wise king on the throne (vs. 4-6).

These are sobering words for all of us in positions of leadership – bosses at work, sports coaches, government officials, teachers, and even parents leading children.  God expects us to take care of those we’re leading. We’re to look after them, calm their fears, and make sure they’re safe. We’re to treat them fairly and ensure a level playing field. This is a serious responsibility, with serious consequences if we don’t live up to it.

As Christians, it is natural for us to interpret vs. 5-6 as referring to Jesus. His human parents were descendants of David, making Jesus the “righteous Branch.” We know Jesus as the ultimate savior, not only of the Jews but of all people.

The passage ends with the declaration that in the future God will no longer be known as the One who brought the people out of Egypt, but will instead be known as the One who brought them back home after being scattered to many foreign lands. Keep in mind that God said this while the people were still scattered. God’s best days were still ahead. God was going to do something even greater than the greatest thing for which God was previously known. God still does new mighty deeds even greater than those God has done in the past. How cool is that?

Clif Guy serves as Director of Information Technology at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection.

2.18.11 Friday Insights from Darren Lippe

Happy Birthday!  400 years ago (1611 for those of us who are mathematically challenged) the King James Bible translation was completed.  After 47 scholars worked for 7 years, the English-speaking world would have a translation that would be the gold standard for generations.

But before we can cut the cake, we need to examine the life of one of our Christian Heroes, John Wycliffe.  John was an incredible scholar, preacher & reformer living in England in the 1300s.  However like our friend Jeremiah in today’s Scripture, he was detested by the religious authorities of his day.  Actually, that’s putting it mildly.  Forty-four years after he was dead & buried, the religious leaders dug up his body, burned it, & threw his ashes into the Swift River.  (“Letting bygones be bygones” was not a familiar phrase to these folks – Editor.)

Why was John so despised?  He had the audacity to believe that the Bible should be translated into English.  While we think this doesn’t sound very revolutionary, bear in mind that in that day English was the language of peasants & servants.  It was not considered to be beautiful or majestic.  Consider one opponent’s viewpoint:

“Wycliffe translated it from Latin into English – not the angelic – language!  As a result, what was previously known only by learned clerics & those of good understanding has become common, and available to the laity – in fact even to women who can read!  As a result, the pearls of the gospel have been scattered & spread before swine.”

Um. I think the writer is referring to you & me.  Which led to the 2nd main concern about our friend John.  If people could read the Bible for themselves & hear Jesus’ teachings in their own language, then they could see if the church & its leaders were practicing the life Christ desired.  (As Scooby-Doo would say, “Ruh-Ro.”)  As a result, John is often referred to as the “Morning Star of the Reformation.”

The Wycliffe Bible was completed in 1380.  In 1560 the Geneva Bible became the 1st Bible with notes, explanations, maps, & illustrations.  This translation was problematic, because its notes contended that grace was offered by faith alone & called into question the divine lineage of royalty.

King James of Scotland ascends to the throne & is concerned with the popularity of the Geneva Bible.  He then creates the Hampton Court Conference to develop THE translation for all of England.

The scholars would sit in chairs lined around the edge of a great room.  The translation would be read aloud.  If any in the room found fault with the translation, they would raise their hand.  If not, then the reader would go on.  (The King James Bible was to be read publicly in church, thus it needed to be understood orally as well as being readable.)

Without the King James Bible, one could argue that the great missionary undertakings of the 17th & 18th centuries would not have been possible.  The KJV democratized Christianity, letting each believer read, think, & reach their own conclusions about what the Bible says to them.

So, you are reading a book that is considered dangerous & revolutionary, a book that makes the most powerful leaders on earth sweat, & a book that, even today, is banned in some countries.

Perhaps our time with the Bible could be more meaningful if we realized just how fortunate we are to be able to hear Jesus’ voice for ourselves.  My school librarian used to say, “The fastest way to get a child to read a book, is to tell them ‘they shouldn’t read it.’”  So with one last furtive glance around us, let’s see what the Bible says to us today.  (Psst!  Appyhay Irthdaybay to the King James Bible!)

2.17.11 Thursday Insights from Amy Otto

Election time is always a crazy time as politicians spend months convincing you that they have what it takes to lead our country, state, county or city  through the next several years. Some of them downplay or just lie about their opponents or certain issues to elevate themselves in our minds. With commercials, debates and speeches, they pursue our votes. And usually they make wonderful promises, like “increase the minimum wage” or “cut your taxes.” Awesome! Don’t we all want to be paid more? Don’t we all want to pay fewer taxes? Unfortunately, reality almost always involves tradeoffs. If you increase the minimum wage, some people may lose their jobs because some companies can’t afford to pay higher wages and keep everyone. If you cut taxes, some government benefits or services will have to be cut, too. The politician who shares these hard truths with us would get booed off any stage in the United States. It’s not what we want to hear. It definitely doesn’t look good next to someone who promises awesome changes that benefit us with no pain or tradeoff involved.

Jeremiah was like the truth-telling politician, constantly being booed off every stage and street corner. He shared hard truths with the people of Judah. He called people to turn their hearts back to God before it was too late. When it was too late, he warned them of the consequences of their actions. Hananiah knew how to tell people what they wanted to hear. He put down what Jeremiah had to say, and said the kindom of Judah would regain its glory and the Babylonians would be defeated. He gave the people what they wanted to hear (and turned them away from the truth). In the end, Jeremiah said he would die within the year–and he did.

The Bible says some people will come claiming to speak for God, but they will be false. They will be like wolves dressed in sheeps’ clothing, convincing us to follow the wrong path and believe in things that only hurt us. For some of us it isn’t people that are the wolves dressed in sheep clothing, but temptations that look so good they couldn’t possibly be bad for us. How many of us have needed an “intervention”–a calling out on a direction we are headed or action we have taken? I know I have. I’m thankful I have people in my life that call me on the carpet and hold me accountable for the things that lead me astray. They don’t tell me what I want to hear, but they act as God’s messengers caring for me and telling me what I need to hear.

Many times God calls us, not to the popular thing but to the right thing. He may call us to continually resist (every day) a temptation so strong it could take us down if we gave in. He may call us to physically stand up against an injustice that we see. Whatever God calls us to, we need to remember that as with Jeremiah, God is always with us providing us with the strength and the fire in our bones to carry on.

There will always be “Hananiah’s” in our lives trying to convince us of what we want to hear, whether it is that needing several drinks with every meal is normal, that human sex trafficking doesn’t exist, that being “nice” on Sundays at church is all that you need to go to heaven, or whatever. If we don’t look at the hard truths of life, we will face consequences (even, like Hananiah, consequences that might cost us our lives).

Open yourself up to God as Jeremiah did. God will give you the fire in your bones to fight whatever injustice or cause he calls you to face. He will also bring people into your life to hold you accountable and tell you the hard truths you need to hear.

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