Monthly Archives: March 2015

3.31.15 Insights from Brandon Gregory

Brandon Gregory is a volunteer for the worship and missions teams at Church of the Resurrection. He helps lead worship at the Vibe, West, and Downtown services, and is involved with the Malawi missions team at home.

When Jesus healed the servant of the faithful centurion, he did so because of the centurion’s faith. The passage tells us that Jesus was even amazed at the man’s faith, and he goes on to say that he hasn’t found such a faith even in Israel. But what was so amazing about the centurion’s faith?

Roman military units were viciously effective in battle because they stuck together no matter what. They covered each other with their own shields. They attacked as a single unit. They would gladly give their lives for the sake of the unit. So when the centurion suggests that all of creation has this kind of obedience, this kind of loyalty, to Jesus, that’s kind of a big deal. That’s a pretty powerful faith.

But I think the truly amazing thing about this man’s faith wasn’t its power but its sheer tenacity. In choosing to acknowledge Jesus as God, he turned his back on his Roman gods, probably much to the dismay of his fellow Roman centurions. This may have undermined some of his authority as a leader. And he probably didn’t get much help from Jewish believers, who mostly hated the Romans. The story had moved along much further by the time he asks Jesus for help, but the fact that he even got there is a truly amazing story. He had every reason to turn away from the son of God, and it is because he chose not to that his story is amazing.

We read about this man’s faith and we’re amazed, inspired, drawn to it. But I wonder if we were there when the centurion first showed up in town, would we be the Jewish believers who gave him a hard time? If someone who went against everything we stood for showed up at one of our worship services, how would we react? This centurion had to build a synagogue to gain the trust of the Jewish believers. What would one of these people have to do to gain our trust?

It’s important to remember this moving into Easter, one of two days a year where people who wouldn’t ordinarily set foot in a church do just that. And people who go against everything we stand for could very well walk in those doors, and I’m betting most of them do not have the money to build a synagogue for us.

It’s true that a great many people are dragged to church on Easter by family. But I wonder how many would truly be looking to reconnect if we welcomed them with open arms, if we were glad to see them even once or twice a year and respected them the same way we respected our most pious Christian friends.

Remember this Easter that we are all on equal footing with God, no matter our past, no matter our deeds, no matter our status in life. Remember that those who seem to stand against us may grow to be our most powerful allies.

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

3.30.15 Insights from Donna Karlen

dkarlengpsDonna Karlen serves in Communications at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection.

I tried googling the number of times some form of the word ‘forgive’ appears in the Bible. Depending on the version, the answers varied from 40 to 115. But those numbers don’t even count the passages such as today’s scripture, which is telling us to forgive without actually using the word. Turning the other cheek means we don’t retaliate – certainly something that is much better accomplished when we don’t hold a grudge against those who do us wrong – or in the words we say each week in worship, when we “forgive those who trespass against us.”

I looked up some other passages related to forgiveness that don’t necessarily use the actual word and found these gems:

  • Psalm 103:3 – He surrounds me with loving kindness and tender mercies … He is merciful and tender toward those who don’t deserve it; he is slow to get angry and full of kindness and love.
  • Hebrews 4:16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
  • Micah 7:18 – … You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.

 Delight to show mercy.” Those words practically burst with how much God loves us!

God shows us mercy and grace because he first forgives us. Just as he wants us to forgive others. Mark 11:25 says “When you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against.”

It’s not easy to turn the other cheek. And yet Jesus was beaten, insulted, spit upon and nailed to a cross and still spoke these words, “Father, forgive them …” How much less happens to us that we think we can’t find it in our hearts to forgive?

The thing is we don’t have to do it alone. We can ask God for a forgiving spirit and he will work on our hearts – “so that we may be children of our Father in heaven.” And God so wants that to happen that “he sent his only son …” which brings us back to forgiveness.

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

3.28.15 Insight from Doyle Blanton

Rev. Doyle Blanton is a Congregational Care Pastor at Resurrection, serving the 9 a.m. worship community, assisting with the 5 p.m. Sunday community and shepherding the Thursday night care night. He and his wife Christy moved to Kansas in June and have two children, Matt and Heather.

When I read a text like this one from 1 John, chapter 5, I have a couple of reactions. I am certainly grateful for the assurance of my salvation, freely given through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It is not of my doing–rather, I simply open myself to the gift offered. This is great cause of celebration, for this salvation offered is both a present reality and a future promise as well. Better yet, the salvation offered even creates a new past–for in God’s redemption God redeems past, present, and future! This most certainly is cause for rejoicing.

The only thing in this text from 1 John that causes me a bit of adverse reaction is the sharp line drawn between those who have the Son and those who do not. I grew up in a religious affiliation that was quite sure who did and who did not! You know, the haves and the have not’s. I don’t want to be so sure of my salvation that I draw the lines too boldly–for God is the one who offers the salvation. It is always my hope that I can rejoice in salvation, yes, and generously extend that salvation to everyone. I will leave to God the decision as to who it is that “has not life.” That decision is above my pay grade!

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

3.27.15 Insight from Darren Lippe

Darren Lippe helps facilitate Journey 101 “Loving God” classes, guides a 7th-grade Sunday school class, is a member of a small group & a men’s group, and serves on the Curriculum team.

Over Spring Break our family took a trip to the East Coast visiting sites that included the Statue of Liberty, Fort McHenry, Colonial Williamsburg, etc. This gave me an opportunity to “visit” with Mr. Fir, a Park Ranger, about today’s challenge.

DL: Mr. Fir, what is it like to be a Park Ranger?

Douglas Fir: Please, call me Douglas. I’ve had the privilege of being a Park Ranger in all sorts of National Parks – from the Grand Canyon to Fort Sumter to Alcatraz to Independence Hall.

Some folks’ impressions of being a Ranger are limited to Smokey the Bear, Yogi Bear, or handling odd statements like, “If I were a soldier in the Civil War I would have definitely steered clear of this area, what with all the monuments & gravestones.” or “How much of this cave is underground?” or “Is The Gettysburg Address 1195 Baltimore Pike Gettysburg, PA?”

But actually we are caretakers. We are to preserve our nation’s natural & cultural resources for the enjoyment, the education, & the inspiration for this & future generations.

DL: Does it get tiresome?

Douglas Fir: Definitely. Let’s be blunt. Tourists are exhausting. 90% of the folks we encounter are visiting our site for the 1st time, so we deal with the same initial questions & concerns day-in & day-out. We have to fight the temptation of wondering if the hassle is worth it.

Sometimes we can become over-protective of our park. We may want to restrict the number of visitors allowed or try to discourage people from getting the full use of the site, all in the name of preservation.

DL: How do you fight this temptation?

Douglas Fir: We have to remind ourselves that we are always one generation away from losing the comprehension of our nation’s incredible history or even appreciation for nature itself. Our parks are to be protected, but they aren’t supposed to be a shrine – something only viewed from afar under special conditions.

I remember a contentious budget fight over placing some gravel on a trail that was being eroded. Some in opposition thought we should just close the trail & save ourselves the expense. But I was thrilled that the trail was being hiked on so much that we needed to take steps to preserve it. I believe the minute we get in the habit of limiting access is when we begin to limit our nation’s future.

DL: Perhaps we Christians should be like a Park Ranger, ensuring we are doing all that we can to educate & inspire this & future generations in the faith. Our faith is also just one generation away from extinction. Admittedly, we, too, can get tired of starting the faith process over with each new visitor or we may feel tempted to just shut down & say we have reached enough believers, but then we aren’t really fulfilling Christ’s challenge for our lives.

To wrap up, what is your next assignment?

Douglas Fir: Next winter I’m looking forward to being the sole caretaker at Yellowstone’s Old Faithful Inn.

DL: Huh. I guess you’ll just be the Lone Ranger.

Douglas Fir: (Staring blankly.)

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


3.26.15 Insight from Amy Oden

Dr. Amy Oden is Professor of Early Church History and Spirituality at Saint Paul School of Theology at OCU. Teaching is her calling, and she looks forward to every day with students. For 25 years, Amy has taught theology and history, pursuing scholarship in service of the church.  

I love these questions raised in the GPS for today. “Picture yourself taking a walk with Jesus in a royal garden. What do you say? What does he say to you?” It took many years into my Christian walk for me to let Jesus walk with me in everyday life. It’s so easy to keep Jesus at arm’s length, to keep him safely on pages inside the Bible, or to put him on a pedestal, or even to keep him on a cloud somewhere at a distance.

The good news in these verses from Revelation is that God’s deepest desire is to share our lives, to dwell with us. That is paradise–to dwell in God’s abundant life. For me, this is a daily awakening to the presence of God in my life, here and now. The Holy One who created me has created a home for me, and for all of us, in this paradise flowing with abundant life for all.

Today, right now, stop and close your eyes. Breathe deeply and relax. Picture yourself with Jesus, walking leisurely through a lush garden. What does it look like? Smell like? What are your feelings as you walk along beside him? Let him call you by name. Just be with Jesus and see what happens.

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

3.25.15 Insight from Angela LaVallie

Angela_LaVallie[1]Angela LaVallie is the Worship Logistics Program Director at Resurrection. She oversees preparing the Sanctuary for worship, supports Vibe worship and volunteers in the Student Center, provides oversight for Holy Communion at the Leawood campus, and assists with worship logistics at conferences.

It just doesn’t seem fair when others get what we have worked for. We get passed up for a promotion even though we’ve already been doing the job in question. Someone who’s been slacking or cheats gets the same reward – or better than – we get.

So often, my judgment on others is influenced more by my own insecurities and a lack of compassion than by a true sense of justice. If someone gets away with something, I am self-righteous: I wouldn’t have even tried that. If someone gets something I feel I deserve, I get jealous: he/she doesn’t deserve that. I rarely take into account the circumstances surrounding those whom I judge. I look at my circumstances and what is or isn’t fair to me.

When Jesus tells the criminal, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise,” my sense of justice tends to be cynical. Just because this man was not against Jesus, he didn’t do anything to deserve being in paradise with Jesus. He didn’t even repent of the sins he committed. I forget that, as hard as I try to live out Jesus’ love in the world, I haven’t done anything to earn my place in heaven and I forget to repent of my sins all the time. I have no idea what crime put this man on a cross – he may have been wrongly accused or convicted for all I know.

Though God loves us and created us with all the emotions and abilities to reason that we have, God also knows we are all fallible. We are not capable of fair eternal justice. Our minds cannot comprehend the scope of God’s plan. Just as I often (after the fact) look back and understand that my expectations and judgment were not taking into account the bigger picture, I trust that God knows best and remind myself, time and time again, that God alone has the final say on what it means for Jesus to remember us when he comes into his kingdom. How much differently might we live our lives and treat others if we assumed Jesus would remember everyone rather than just those we deem worthy?

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

3.24.15 Insight from Glen Shoup

glen-shoupRev. Glen Shoup is the Executive Pastor of Worship and a Congregational Care pastor.

Executed as a criminal, a doer of evil (a Kakourgois), a murderer, a thief, a rapist, a terrorist—that’s who gets crucified—and yet he was the antithesis of all these things.

When Jesus hangs on that Roman Cross (he was sent there by Jews and hung there by Gentiles…nobody’s hands are washed of it—despite Pilate’s disclaimer), he does so as one who is taking onto and into himself all that is broken, narcissistic, pathological and condemnable.  Yet he was none of those.

The residual effects of human self-willfulness seen on full display in the opening chapters of Genesis (what we theologically call “the fall”), which continues to manifest in each of us a disposition towards that which is broken, narcissistic, pathological and condemnable…Jesus had none of! And yet here he is absorbing all of it. This makes his prayer in those moments—“Father forgive them”—all the more stunning.  He became sin, who had no sin (II Cor 5:21).

This reality (that can’t fully be articulated) is what both of today’s reading touch on. You see this reality named in the last two sentences of the Luke reading and essentially all of the verse from Isaiah. But you see it in several other scripture passages as well.

Theologians have reflected upon it since shortly after it occurred, and yet—in 2,000 years of Church history—we still can’t fully articulate it. Depending on how you count/categorize, there are 6 theories of the “Atonement” (the theological word for what’s happening in Jesus’ death) that have classically been put forth [meaning from the early Church Fathers forward] and 5 to 6 more modern theories put forth in the last 200 years. Yet none of them singularly captures or fully defines what’s going on when…He became sin, who had no sin.

Somehow, despite our descriptive deficiency, we find a glimpse of what it means that He became sin who had no sin in what an old priest [quoted by M. Scott Peck] was getting at when he insightfully observed, “The only ultimate way to conquer evil is to let it be smothered within a willing, living human being. When it is absorbed there…it loses its power and goes no further.”[1] 

In 1999, there was a rather dark, heavy film released called The Green Mile.  And while most movies I see aren’t memorable enough that I can still recall them 15 years later, this one—or at least elements of it—were.  Most notable to me was the character John Coffey, who’d been convicted of a heinous crime, but in the culminating scene of the movie we see that not only was he innocent of the crime—but there is this powerful moment where he decides to take into himself all the evil wrapped up in this heinous crime he didn’t commit and in making this choice, he absorbs the agony, pain and poison of this evil, smothering it, and in so doing he abolishes it. However, this selfless decision to finally take into himself all the evil and smother it…takes his own life. A powerful, redeeming reality in what would otherwise be a dark and hopeless picture.

He became sin…who had no sin.

[1] See Darrell Holtz’s notes on today’s readings

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

3.23.15 Insight from Chris Holliday

Chris_HollidayGPS[1]Rev. Chris Holliday serves as the associate minister at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection West.

We all have people in our lives with whom we struggle. We may not name them “enemies”–we might call them challenging or difficult. And then there are those within and outside our country’s borders who stand against our nation, our way of life, our communities and even the Church, many of whom do not even know us personally.

So how do we handle “enemies”? What do we do? Let us look to the one who was and is the most grace-filled–the one who died to save all, even his enemies. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus teaches us the following law of love.

“You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete. (Matthew 5:43-48, Common English Bible)

Praying for our enemies or for those who harass us is powerful. Sometimes, it may help change those for whom we pray; but one thing is for sure–praying for our enemies will always help change us, the ones doing the praying. Through those prayers, God will soften our hearts and show us ways to love those challenging folks in our lives. Through those prayers, God will help us become more loving and caring to all, even to ourselves. Through those prayers, lives will be changed and wisdom will be gained. Through those prayers, we will continue to grow into the more complete, compassionate people God created us to be.

So may we love our enemies and pray for our enemies and show kindness to our enemies–not only to change them, but to change us. Amen.

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

3.21.15 Insight from Mary Jones

Mary Jones is an eleven-year member of the Resurrection family, and served on staff for nine. Her greatest joy is serving with My Father’s House – Resurrection Furnishings Ministry alongside her husband Kevin and the many people there who are dedicated to building God’s Kingdom in Kansas City.

Don’t you love it when you hear some insight or “new to you” idea in worship, from a friend or small group, and then something happens later that week that brings that idea back around full circle? A good friend of mine calls that a “God wink.”

I am very thankful for our church pastors who help us experience God winks by breaking open the meaning of Bible passages in ways I never considered. Last weekend Pastor Scott Chrostek spoke about Mary and John. He asserted that throughout Jesus’ ministry Mary and John were always present. It had never occurred to me that Mary’s being ever-present exemplified God’s constant and never-changing love for us. Or that John represents all of us, who God calls to follow Him.

Then there was that turning-point moment at the cross when Jesus directed John to take Mary into his home, to become family. This action of John and Mary ‘turning toward each other’ created, or rather, solidified the foundation of the community of believers.

On Tuesday night at the Lenten study on the Apostle’s Creed, Jeff Kirby listed seven activities of the Holy Spirit. Three of those were: He helps us to pray; He empowers us to share our faith with others; and He creates unity in the family of God. Jeff taught that He creates the unity, but it’s our job to maintain that unity of spirit and bond of peace. Can I repeat that? He creates the unity, but it’s our job to maintain that unity. There’s that phrase again – unity of community of believers. It started before the Cross, was directed from the cross, was gently reinforced on the walk to Emmaus, and the Holy Spirit continually tugs at our hearts to remind us.

How each of us can ‘maintain the unity of spirit and bond of peace’ through our actions differs because He has created us uniquely, but I believe prayer is where there is no uniqueness between us. Whether we are out-loud halleluiah prayer warriors or never make it audible, God knows our prayerful hearts. I’ve noticed that when I choose an action without prayer as the foundation, it can be a little (or a lot!) off kilter. When we come together in prayer first, we can be centered closer to following His will for our lives and His kingdom. This week I’m going to make an effort to put the brakes on “let’s go!” and change it to, “first lets pray!”

Happy Spring and may you have many God winks!

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

3.20.15 Insight from Phil Antilla

philgpsPhil Antilla serves as the program director for Young Adult and College Ministry:

The other day I was having a conversation with someone who was explaining why they didn’t believe in God.

“I just can’t believe in a God who is full of anger and wrath,” they said. “Why would I want to worship some deity who will send me to hell if I don’t live up to his moral code?” Then they added, “And since this God doesn’t seem to care about me, I don’t care much for him.”

After listening to this friend of mine for some time, I responded by saying, ” You know what? I wouldn’t want to worship that kind of god either!”

I told my friend that the image of God which is seared into my mind is one of Jesus hanging on a cross, who sees his captors mocking him, who sees his friends running away, and yet still has his arms open wide.

As Jesus is moments away from death, he asks for the forgiveness of those who have betrayed him. He turns to a criminal next to him and provides comfort, telling him to just hold on for a few more moments and then he will be with Jesus in paradise. And even from a cross, Jesus looks down at his mother, and makes sure that she will be cared for.

We cannot avoid pain and death. However, as the Apostle Paul writes, “If we have been united with Chris in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” I am thankful that in Jesus, we see the truest image of who God is. Not a God who is distant, or a God who abandons, but a God who bears the burdens of all creation, and who hangs on a cross in front of all people with arms open wide.

There will come a time when we all have to face the reality of death. But I have a hunch, that the same Spirit which was at work in Jesus, which gave him the power to be strong, and to be brave, and forgiving, is also the same Spirit that is at work in you now.

Thanks be to God!

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