Monthly Archives: November 2013

11.30.13 Insight from Bryan Cisler

Bryan Cisler serves as the Digital Media Specialist at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection.

When I read today’s GPS, what sticks out to me is how powerful Jesus’ mountaintop experience was. A lot of people have their favorite ministries or serving events where they feel like they are closer to the Kingdom of God. For me, it’s when I go down to the Healing House on Friday nights. If you’re not familiar, Healing House is a group faith-based recovery homes located in the northeast section of Kansas City, and provides spiritual growth, emotional stability and direction to prepare men and women on their journey from addiction while seeking a purposeful life in our community.

It’s incredibly inspiring to hear some of the stories that the residents go through to try and become clean. I am not trying to over romanticize the process of getting over a drug addiction, and the people there have their ups and downs like everybody else. But it’s watching how everyone comes together to help bring each other out of their own personal wilderness that sometimes makes you feel like you watching the Gospels live out right in front of your eyes.

And the best part is, for the most part the process works. If a resident has managed to stay at Healing House for 3 months, they have a 73% chance of staying clean. The national average for a drug rehabilitation center in that time frame is 13%. From what I can tell, when people first join the house, they aren’t at that point strong Christians. Also from what I can tell, most of them don’t have mountain top experiences like the one listed in today’s GPS that gets them to believe. For them, it’s partly watching the older residents who are further along in their journey and seeing how they used their faith to get out of their own wilderness.

It was once told to me like this. Imagine that you are given a Betty Crocker Cake Mix. The box comes with directions on the side that any eight-year-old can read. For once, take a break and just follow the directions on the side of the box. It doesn’t matter if you believe a cake would result, or whether you understood the baking-chemistry of how a cake would result, but if you follow the directions and get help from more experienced bakers to keep from messing things up, there’s a better chance of a cake resulting then if you did it your own way.

For people at the Healing House, they are required to spend a certain part of the week serving others in addition to their jobs, it’s spending a lot of their nights in small groups, praying, reading the Bible and challenging each other to get better.There’s a very detailed path for them to grow deeper in their faith. Even if a resident wasn’t a strong Christian when they start out, they begin to see first hand how surrendering themselves to God can change their life. I guess my question is if you’re in your own wilderness, are you trying to figure things out by yourself and waiting for that mountain top experience to happen randomly? Or are you allowing others to help you, and  putting yourself on a proven successful strategy that will get you on the right path?

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

11.29.13 Insight from Chris Folmsbee

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

I love today’s scripture reading!  There are so many mysterious and jaw-dropping elements for us to wonder around and wrestle with in this reading.  Honestly, where do we even begin?  Do we look at Elijah’s multiple attempts to shake Elisha as he prepares to transition away from earth as well as his passionate plea not to talk about it?  Do we focus on Elisha’s relentless pursuit to stay with his master?  Do we spend our time on the water parting? How about the chariots and horses of fire, the whirlwind, the double portion of spirit and the 50 prophets of looking on as Elijah transitions from earth, their empty search of three days?  There is so much in this passage for us to consider.

Today, however, even with all the amazing explicit elements, I’d like to focus on an implicit element within the narrative.  I’d like to focus our thinking and reflecting on the priority of Elijah between the time he learned of his departure and God’s succession plan for him (I Kings 19:15-21) to the day he actually departed. Perhaps it is assumption, but I have to believe that as a master teacher, Elijah thought often and very carefully about what he was leaving Elisha to carry on long after he was gone.  Just what was Elijah’s legacy?  What drove Elijah to ask Elisha, “What can I do for you before I go?” (v. 9)

I’ve been fortunate to have many mentors in my life.  I’ve learned so much from so many who have gone before me.  Their wisdom, experience, truth and challenges are so much a part of who I am becoming today.  I am grateful for the “Elijah’s” in my life that have spoken truth and displayed authentic faith.  I am exceedingly grateful for those who have taken me under their wing to teach me and guide me into the person I am today.  Who are you mentoring – employees, children, co-workers, friends?  In what ways are you being intentional about what you are leaving behind?

I believe it is safe to say that Elijah’s worldview and legacy can be summed up in one verse – I Kings 17:1.  This is God’s message for King Ahab through Elijah.  The verse reads, “…As surely as the Lord lives, Israel’s God, the one I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain these years unless I say so.”  Elijah’s legacy left to Elisha his successor was simply this 1) God lives, 2) I am God’s representative, and

3) God’s promises will prevail.  What a wonderful outlook on life and faith in which to pass on to Elisha.  What is your legacy?  How does your outlook on life and faith compare to Elijah’s?

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

11.28.13 Insight from Rev. Glen Shoup

Rev. Glen Shoup is the Executive Pastor of Worship and Congregational Care pastor for those who have last names beginning with J – L.

You are never alone.  That’s God’s word to Elijah in today’s reading and it culminates in God’s call and instructions in today’s reading.  Elijah had been going through quite a difficult time and, as part of that journey, he had come to believe the lie that he was all on his own.  Nobody understands.  Nobody cares.  Nobody to turn to.  All alone. 

This is such an easy lie to believe, especially when you’re going through the wilderness.  Just ask Elijah.  Just ask Moses who came before him.  Just ask Jesus who came after him.  When you’re walking through the desert, the temptation through which the devil always seeks to do his most convincing work is the temptation to believe that we’re all alone—now, and forever.  Alone in our pain; alone in our burden; alone in our hopes and alone in our striving and there’s just nothing that can begin erode and erase hope like believing that you’re alone. 

This is why it’s what the tempter tried to throw at Jesus when he was in the desert—turn this stone into bread…after all, if you don’t, you’re going to starve to death—You’re all alone out here.  Throw yourself off this peak, God won’t let you die—prove to yourself and everyone else that you’re not all alone.  Bow down to me—worship me and I’ll give you all the kingdoms of the world…I’m your best shot—you’re all alone.

And this same lie was Elijah’s greatest temptation.  Elijah, Jezebel is going to rip you apart–you’re all alone.  Elijah, nobody’s interested in your message and no one will listen to you–you’re all alone.  Elijah, just do yourself a favor and sign off—you’re all alone. 

But into this easily believed fallacy—right here in today’s reading—God’s speaks to Elijah.  Elijah, look; not only are you not alone, but actually you’re surrounded by 7,000 others who stand with you.  7,000 whose presence you’ve been oblivious to while you’ve bought the line that you’re alone.  Now get up cause I’ve got work for you to do which is not only going to make clear to you now that you’re not alone, but this mission is going to arrange a network in the future that will ensure you and those who come after you aren’t ever going to be alone.  Elijah—there may be moments when you feel lonely—but you my child are never alone!

 You may be reading this on this Thanksgiving Day in some quiet moments before spending the rest of your day surrounded by friends or family.  Or, you may be reading this, before spending the remainder of this Thanksgiving Day absent of family or friends.  Regardless, God is saying to you exactly the same thing he said to Elijah several thousand years ago that we read about in today’s scripture: listen child, I understand that there may be times when you feel lonely, but you are never alone—I am with you; I’ll never leave you and I’ll never forsake you and I continue to call you and have work for you to do…you are never alone!

I can’t think of anything today, or any day, for which I’m more thankful.

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

11.27.13 Insight from Rev. Steven Blair

Rev. Steven Blair is the Congregational Care pastor of Live Forward and Live Well Emotional Wellness Ministry. www.cor.org/liveforward

The Message that Helped the Depressed Elijah
or  “You Are Not Alone”

WEDNESDAY 11.27.13   1 Kings 19:1-14
Clinical Depression is not the same as sadness.  A Depressed Brain is an inflamed brain.  It is swollen and is measurably bigger.   (Learn more at www.cor.org/depressioninterview).   If my thumb were swollen, people would not say “Steven, your thumb is swollen because you aren’t trying hard enough or it’s all in your head.”  They likely wouldn’t say “Steven, your thumb is swollen because God is teaching you a lesson or punishing you.” Or “Your thumb is swollen and it’s a sign that you must not be trusting in God enough.”  Instead, people would likely say something like “Wow, that looks like it hurts.  It must be hard for you to type and text.” I would receive the most sought out words:  “I see.”  

Depression is the same way.  I have been blessed to lead the Live Well Emotional Wellness Ministry for a couple of years at Resurrection.  I have seen over 500 people with Depression and Anxiety in that program in addition to the people I have seen in my office for pastoral counseling.  We begin with that one statement from Dr. Stephen Ilardi, author and professor at the University of Kansas.  “A depressed brain is an inflamed brain.”  When we start there, the shame begins to melt away.

 If you are struggling with Depression, I believe you.    I see.    The part of your brain that is inflamed included the left frontal cortex which oversees motivation.   It can be hard for you to be motivated to do ______________ for the same reason as it is for a person with an inflamed thumb to text or type.

 You’re not making this up.

I believe God has two messages for you. 
#1  There is Hope.       Our God is an Easter God who has a history of surprises.   No matter how dark your Saturday is or how many Saturdays who have experienced, Sunday is on its way.

 #2  You Are Not Alone.    This message comes from the Elijah Scripture from last week’s sermon. 
 
In 1 Kings 18, Elijah engages in a showdown with the priests of the false gods Baal and Asherah.  Both sides called on their god/God to consume an offering of a bull by fire.  While Baal and Asherah remained silent, Elijah’s God responded in dramatic fashion.  This would have been a good day for Elijah.  He probably wrote in his journal that night “Dear Diary, I had the best day ever.” 

 But the very next chapter Elijah opens with Elijah down in the dumps again.  He is running from people who had made their spiritual bets on the side of Baal and Asherah.  He voices a desire to no longer live to an angel  saying “I am the only one {faithful prophet} left, and now they are trying to kill me too (1 Kings 19:10.)”  Elijah then travels 40 days to Mt. Horeb to meet with God. 

At the top of Mt Horeb, there was a great wind but God was not in the wind.  There was a great earthquake but God was not in the earthquake.  There was a great fire and, say it with me, but God was not in the fire.  But then a still small voice came and Elijah recognized this whisper to be the voice of God.  God speaks in a whisper and we can find that voice if we can become quiet.   But Elijah is not specifically transformed by this still small voice.

 Elijah’s first response to God is “I am the only one {faithful prophet} left, and now they are trying to kill me too (1 Kings 19:14).”   These words are identical to what Elijah said before the still, small voice showed up.  God responds to Elijah by telling him, among other details, “I have reserved seven thousand in Israel like you (1 Kings 19:18).”   Translation: “Elijah, you are not alone.”  This is where Elijah’s transformation began.  After hearing this message, Elijah was able to leave the mountaintop and begin living the rest of his life with a deep sense of connection to a larger body of people.  This is where our transformation begins, too. 

I want you to hear this.   Lean in.  You are not alone.  You are not alone.  While the exact number varies, most researchers estimate that about 40 million adult Americans struggle with clinical depression.  That is equivalent to the same number of people who live in the states of Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Illinois combined.  Just as there are wonderful people in these states there are also wonderful people who struggle with depression. 

 By a show of hands, lift them high where I can see them.
1) Who has watched an entire season of The Bachelor?  Look around, YOU ARE NOT ALONE
2) Who installs their toilet paper to fall from the bottom instead of coming over the top?  Look around, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.  (Perhaps, misguided but still not alone)
3) Who struggles with the medical condition called Depression?   Look around, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.   

There are likley  a couple thousand people at Resurrection who struggle with Depression.  People like you.    YOU ARE NOT ALONE.   

There is a team of pastors here at Resurrection who can care for you.  We can remind you that there is hope and you are not alone.  You can make an appointment with us by calling 913-544-0707.    The next Live Well session begins in February.  Registration will open in a couple weeks.  The Live Forward program that I lead includes two groups, one for men and one for women, who are struggling with any type of hurt.  While we are not meeting this Thursday due to Thanksgiving, I would love to talk with you about it more.  You can find out more at www.cor.org/liveforward or by emailing me at steven.blair@cor.org

Let’s pray.
O God, I see people smiling and laughing and often assume that they smile and laugh more than they might actually do.  I tend to think that nobody knows the trouble I have seen and nobody knows my sorrow.  Open my eyes to your transformative message that I am not alone. There are other like me.  Good people.  Like me.  Amen.

 

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

11.26.13 Insight from Shawn Simpson

Shawn Simpson serves as the Director of Technical Arts and Operations at The Church of the Resurrection’s West campus in Olathe, KS.

I was in the wilderness a few years ago and found myself trying to decide what I should do, where I should do it, and with whom I should do it. My first son was just a toddler, and the stresses of making a living and trying to be any sort of father was wearing on me mentally and physically. Thanks to a nice little ruptured disc in my lower back, I was bordering on a legitimate handicap, and since I was self- employed, taking time off wasn’t an option. My travel schedule was carrying me all over the continent, mostly in the seat of my truck with a trailer load of equipment. In my wilderness, I was torn between the financial security of my wife and son, my own health, and whether I wanted to be the father who made appearances in my son’s life between trips.

I grew up with a father who sacrificed himself and his time with the family in order to earn a living. He was an electrical engineer and worked in nuclear power, chemical processing, oil refining, natural gas generation, and all sorts of other industrial applications. That sort of lifestyle pretty much means that you either move your family every few months, or you leave your family at home and go to where the work is (when there is work). Over his career, my Dad was treated for everything from radiation exposure to caustic chemical inhalation.  He ultimately lost his battle with cancer on November 18, 2012.

Part of the wilderness I found myself in was that I loved my father, and I always respected him for what he did for our family. I’d grown to respect him even more as I inadvertently followed in his footsteps, though in a different industry, as I traveled the country chasing the dollars to bring home. I’d felt the “gentle nudge” that perhaps staying around home for a little less money would be the right way to go. I’d also felt the “not so gentle nudge” that life in middle Tennessee can be expensive. I tried a few new business ventures, tried to exploit a few opportunities, but nothing ever quite panned out. So I figured that if I was going to chase dollars on the road, I might as well REALLY go after it like my father did.

Fast forward a few years past my awful back pain, for which I had a simple surgery ($15,000 worth of simple) that relieved most of the problem and gave me back a relatively normal physical life. We’ve had a second son and I’m even more scattered in my wilderness than ever. Some business opportunities have gone bust, the traveling work has slowed down, and now I’ve got the worst of all worlds…I’m spending half as much time on the road for a quarter of the pay with a third more mouths to feed and twice the number of little boys wanting my attention. Our church family was great and supportive. I was very involved in our worship team as a musician and engineer. There were plenty of chances for me to serve, and I’d started feeling that “gentle nudge” toward doing something in ministry. What I didn’t want to do is to turn to the church for a job just because other things were going badly.

My Dad’s suggestion (the same as it had been since I got out of college) was that I give HIS field a shot. I needed to give myself a chance in the field and see if it was something I could do, he said. I had the basic training to work in instrumentation for process measurement and control (say that five times fast!), but I hadn’t been on an industrial job site since the summer before college when I’d worked as a refinery helper. My Dad and I spent hours on the phone going over training materials, industrial guidelines, and most importantly some simple day-to-day practices of operating as a real instrumentation engineer on a job site. Basically, he helped me figure out how I could avoid looking like a guy who’d been making records in Nashville and start being a guy who could go up the outside of a 175’ refining column without losing control of his bodily functions due to a deathly fear of heights.

I ultimately spent a couple of months on an Exxon/Mobil refinery in Torrance, CA with my Dad. I was away from my family, but I was making good money and I was spending time with my Dad before I knew that his time was short. In the midst of my wilderness was a true blessing that I wouldn’t trade for anything now. A career in the instrumentation industry may not have panned out for me, but that time with my Dad did help solidify some other “nudges” I’d been feeling. It’s not uncommon that those types of jobs (long hours, high pay, fast turnaround) finish after a few weeks or months, and then there is a lull before the next one starts. Before the next one could start, I’d started to feel myself being pulled in another direction.

Up to then, I’d always held all of the potential options like safety measures I could trigger whenever I needed. Music business slows down?  Teach some classes. Teaching slows down? Make some records. Making records AND teaching are slow? Start that business you’ve been talking about for years. That business tanks? Go to work with Dad. I was never fully committed to anything, because I was trying to hold all of my options open. All along the way I’d felt the pull of ministry. I kept feeling that I needed something more “worthwhile” than just chasing dollars in the music business. Working with my Dad wasn’t that thing for me.

So, as the sage prophet, Mr. Miagi says: “You karate do-yes…ok. You karate do-no…ok. You karate do-guess so…squish.” I started pursuing ministry with no clear idea of what it would look like. I can spare you the details (or save them for another insights blog ;-)) of God hammering inside my head during that process. Suffice to say, I was convicted that if ministry was my calling, I needed to make the leap and get started. That leap eventually landed me at Resurrection West, and while I can’t say for sure that I’ve come through my wilderness completely, I do know that following God’s guidance has made the journey a much more satisfying one. My career may take me from place to place, but I know now, more than ever, that God has to be the center.

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

11.25.13 Insight from Jeanna Repass

Jeanna Repass serves as the Kansas City Missions Program Director at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection.

I have had the privilege of having a Mother who seems to me was born to be a spokesperson for justice. She chose to speak out during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s and has been speaking out ever since. I am proud to say that at times I have been in a position to speak truth to people in positions of power and through God’s grace; I think I’ve done a respectable job of it. But I was recently truly inspired by the witness of my teenage daughter, Ariel. She had complained to her father and me that another girl on the cheer squad with her at school had used the “n-word” in front of her in a way that was offensive. The girl didn’t call Ariel the word – but she was using it in reference to African Americans.

We asked Ariel if she had said something to the girl about her use of that word and Ariel hadn’t. She told us that she felt intimidated to say something in front of her peers. That word is very isolating and devaluing in and of itself so it’s hard to speak out when it’s being used in a public way – especially if you are a teenager and it’s being said in a group of your peers. For my Ariel, speaking out is doubly difficult because, despite being a varsity cheerleader – she is quite shy. She is completely deaf in her left ear and has slightly diminished hearing in her right. Ariel prefers to interact with the world in quiet terms – her terms.

But on a bus trip to a football game early this year, this same girl started espousing that the black athletes on the football team were faster because black people have that “extra tendon” in their legs that makes them built for speed. Well… Ariel found her voice. On a bus full of her peers, in a situation where she – as the only African American – felt isolated, in a condition where peer pressure is a distinctly poignant power – my daughter found her voice. She not only spoke out – she educated. Ariel told the girl that the nonsense she was spewing was not only anatomically incorrect (black people do NOT have any extra tendons) but that the reference point that she was getting her information from came all the way from slavery and was continued all throughout the journey to equality in our Nation’s history. Idioms like the one this girl was throwing around on that bus – were dangerous, destructive, racist and wrong. Yes – that did silence the girl -finally!

Speaking truth to power is much harder than it even sounds. Power comes in many forms. Sometimes people are asked to speak to a political power or to a King – like Elijah was asked to. Others have to speak to the collective power that a group of people have – like a Pastor speaking to a congregation or a student speaking to a  group of peers. I often think of people like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Gandhi or even that image of the Chinese Student in Tiananmen Square standing with his arm and hand out stretched in front of a military tank when I think of speaking truth to power. But sometimes the truths we are asked to speak come in our one on one interactions.

As Christians we are asked to speak a truth as well – we are to share a word of eternal hope with a world that needs it so much. As we approach Thanksgiving and then Advent – I am so thankful that I can speak the truth of Christmas freely without fear of political persecution or repercussion. I can even share an invitation already printed for me in my church bulletin. However you chose to speak the truth – please speak it. Share the good news that this is a season of hope for a world that still needs hope. Share the news that there is a living God who loves us so much! He loves us enough to come in the form of a baby to take on our flesh and walk among us. He loves us from the manger to the cross to eternal life and God wants it for every one of us! Amen.

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

11.23.13 Insight from Kelly Sisney

Kelly Sisney serves as Director of Operations and Community Life for Resurrection’s Downtown campus.

It was my job this past weekend to read this scripture for our Resurrection Downtown worship services.  Once I got over the joyful fact that I could actually pronounce most of the words, I realized how wretched this story was…I felt like I should apologize or acknowledge how difficult it was to hear.

I really began to think about the story and listen to Adam’s message about “being heard” I saw the importance, though painful, of recognizing this story and allowing all of us to really see that we are no more alone than Hagar was and we all have, most likely, spent some time in the desert.

My daughter made an incredibly difficult decision and gave my grandson up for adoption.  She wasn’t happy about where her life was heading and where it was currently, she wanted him to have a mom and a dad and she loved him enough to let him go.  I am so proud of her and I love her dearly for the heart she has and selflessness she possesses.  But, my own mother did not see that, she saw that I allowed my grandson to be given away and has never spoken to me again since that day.  Jackson is 3.

God saw my fractured heart.  I also had to let my grandson go and the person I needed the most had let me go.  But, the Lord has a glue for broken hearts that far out performs anything bought at Home Depot!  He provided me with friends, with a church family who surrounded me and loved me as he would.

The best part, my husband and I are still Grandma and Grandpa.  We see Jackson whenever we want and he comes to stay with us and visits our daughter too.

The consequences of this world left me in the desert but God was the water and bread I’d needed to survive…and he heard me.  Trust me, I was loud…and sometimes angry but he loved me anyway and I now know that nothing offered to me here on earth will be as rich, honest and truly fulfilling as the unconditional love God has for me.

 

 

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

11.22.13 Insight from Darren Lippe

Darren Lippe helps facilitate Journey 101 “Loving God” classes, guides a 6th-grade Sunday school class, is a member of a small group & a men’s group, and serves on the Curriculum team.

While pondering today’s moving scene, I reflected on the study my Men’s Group just concluded, “Champagne for the Soul: Celebrating God’s Gift of Joy” by Mike Mason.  Mr. Mason, a borderline depressive, realizes that his habitual gloominess was interfering with his love of God.  Thus, he embarks on a 90 day experiment to break his “addiction to the cheap wine of melancholy and to seek God’s champagne for the soul.”

I’ve often been accused of being overly optimistic and positive: I’ll feel like raking the leaves more tomorrow than today, my wife, Doris, will laugh uproariously at my hilarious joke, & if my boss is on line 2, it must be to congratulate me for something I didn’t even know I had done.

I’ve always easily related to the Ronald Reagan joke about the boy whose folks thought was too optimistic.  So, they take him to a psychiatrist who shows him a barn piled high with horse manure.  The boy jumps on top of the pile and starts digging.  The doctor asks,  “What are you doing?”  The boy shouts, “With all this horse manure, there must be a pony in here somewhere!”

Aside: Which reminds me of the story Bess Truman told about her husband, Harry.  After his Presidency, he was speaking to a ladies gardening club & discussed in great detail the benefits of manure in gardening.  One of the prim ladies came up to Bess afterwards and said how much she enjoyed the speech but that she did wish Mr. Truman wouldn’t use the word “manure” so much.  Bess simply nodded and replied, “Do you know how many years it took me to get him to say manure?”  (Thus concludes today’s survey of scatological satire – Editor.)

Even with this natural tendency to look on the sunny side of life, I learned several insights from Mr. Mason’s book that seemed applicable to today’s Scripture.

Mr. Mason contended that too often we believe that before we can be joyful, we have to be rid of all of our problems, be it a chronic illness, a troubled marriage/no marriage, or financial concerns.  The challenge with this thinking is that life is going to be full of problems; even when one difficulty is resolved another will take its place.  Thus, we have created a formula that effectively eliminates the opportunity for joy in our lives:

We can’t be joyful until all problems are resolved.

Since we will always have difficulties, we then can’t be joyful.

He further observed that Joy requires optimism about the past.  “Forgiveness means letting go of the hopes of a better past.  Optimism, like forgiveness, reaches into yesterday and actually changes what we thought could never be changed.  The joyful person is not the one who is always successful, but rather is the one who looks his failures in the eye and then tosses them over his shoulder and says, “Next!”

Finally, he reflected on joy in the midst of suffering, like the situation our friend Hagar finds herself.  Mr. Mason contends that Christian joy & suffering are intertwined like fingers clasped in prayer.  Consider the cross: it is the union of intense suffering & extreme joy.  Christian joy is not some airy ideal.  It is rooted in the reality of the suffering on the cross.  In Hebrews 12:2, it is written that we should fix our eyes on Jesus, the perfect example of our faith, “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross.”

Some may see joy in the midst of struggles as fleeting/temporary or incomplete and thus might be tempted to conclude it isn’t worthy of the effort.  However, perhaps we’d be better served if we eagerly seized the moment to squeeze all of the joy that we possibly can out of each day precisely because we recognize that joy is so fleeting.

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

11.21.13 Insight from Janelle Gregory

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

I rarely get the mail. 1. It’s at the opposite end of the cul-de-sac from our house, and frankly – I’m just that lazy. 2. There’s never anything good in it anyway. It’s just a bunch of flyers, ads, and credit card offers. But on March 25th, on one of my rare trips to the mailbox, I discovered that I had received a hand-written envelope from New York. It was from my friend, Bill Nelson!

Bill and I have probably been friends for around 12 years. We met through a mutual friend and hit it off instantly. We hung out pretty often – playing, laughing, dancing, telling stories. We even took a storytelling class together that was so outrageous and bizarre that it produced twice as many stories as we actually told in the class. But our times of hanging out came to a screeching halt when Bill moved to New York seven years ago to study musical theater. Our friendship found its new rhythm in the occasional text message, Facebook status, and catching up when he was back in town.

And then there was the envelope in my mailbox this past March. It wasn’t around my birthday, and I wasn’t expecting an invitation from him so I was quite puzzled as to what it might be. I opened it to find a letter. It wasn’t more than a couple of paragraphs long, but it was absolutely moving. He took the time to tell me what he appreciated about me, and enclosed with the letter was a $100 check – his way of giving to those in his life that have influenced him spiritually. It was extremely thoughtful and quite unexpected. Seven years after he moved away, he thought enough to sit down and write a note that would touch my heart and take me by surprise.

Maybe it is because of how selfish I am, but I was totally amazed that someone would do that. Frankly, I was shocked that it even came to mind. When you don’t see someone for a long time, you start to question if they still think of you – if you still mean as much to them. You start to wonder if your friendship has faded into great memories and good stories.

I don’t know about you, but I often get this way with God. I start to feel forgotten or that perhaps His love for me has diminished. I imagine that this is fairly normal, which is really a shame as this fairly normal occurrence of forgetfulness can lead to a giant host of other problems.  When we don’t remember that we are loved by God, it chips away at our ability to trust Him. His promises are questioned and our confidence in Him is in jeopardy.

So perhaps today we need that unexpected letter in the mail from God, reminding us of how He really feels towards us. I hate to speak on behalf of God, but I imagine that it would go something like this:

I hope you know how much I love you. I’m not just fond of you or think you’re okay. I think of you incessantly, and I spend my time plotting and planning ways to bless you. I yearn to show you how deep and strong my love is for you. I want you to hear me when I whisper the words, “I’m proud of you.” I want you to feel me when I cry with you in the darkness. I want you to know that my love is absolutely unconditional, and you’ll never be able to escape it. There is nothing that can separate you from my love. You are irreplaceable, and you will always be in my heart. Know that I have not, nor will I ever forget you. You are precious to me.

This is the heart of our God. These are the kinds of sentiments we must remember. They are what get us through and what keep us trusting when the fulfillment of a promise seems out of reach. They help us to see the reality that God does not give empty promises, because His heart simply won’t let Him.

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

11.20.13 Insight from Angela LaVallie

Angela LaVallie is the Member Connection Program Director at The Church of the Resurrection. She provides oversight to our member connection efforts through the New Member Welcome Team,  the Reconnection Team, and our Spiritual Gifts Discovery classes and Placement.

Recently, I flew home to Indiana for a long weekend. I have flown many times, but for some reason, on this particular trip, I was especially in awe of the fact that we can actually fly somewhere – and so quickly. The flight from Kansas City to Indianapolis, which is nearly 500 miles by interstate, takes just about an hour. I usually spend the time on this short flight reading, but I had a window seat and just could not stop watching the ground pass by below. As soon as we hit 10,000 feet and could use our electronic devices, I turned on my cell phone and snapped a few pictures of the towns and surrounding farmlands below. It’s amazing how still everything looks from that high up, like a model.

Seeing, no, really looking at life from that height made me realize how small we are in comparison to all that is around us. Now, I know this isn’t a new concept for any of us, but it put things into perspective for me once again that I am not the center of the universe. However, with all that is out there and the six billion other people that are alive on the planet at this time, I take great comfort in knowing that, like Hagar, God sees me individually.

With my limited mental capacities (limited because I’m human), I cannot understand how in the world God sees and hears and cares about each of us at the same time, but I believe it. I believe it because I have experienced it. Although I have not experienced tragic loss or suffered through major traumatic circumstances, I have walked through my own valleys. And each time, just when I feel like I don’t know what to do or where to turn, God sends someone to do or say exactly what I need to know that I am not alone and that whatever situation I am dealing with is just temporary.

When God lets Hagar know he sees her, she takes comfort in that fact alone, even though he doesn’t promise her a perfect life and, in fact, lets her know that things will be tough with her son. I, too, take comfort in knowing that, even though life isn’t perfect, God sees me – sees each of us – and responds in deeply personal ways to let me know of his love.

Flight to IN

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