Category Archives: Wrestling with God

9.8.09 Tuesday Insights from Pastor Molly Simpson

As we see in Genesis 37 the sibling rivalry moves into the next generation… Jacob and his brother Esau had their share of conflict, and there were only two brothers.  With Jacob’s children, Joseph has many brothers to deal with, most of whom have disdain for his privileged status in the family.  In today’s passage, the other brothers seize the opportunity to get Joseph while he is away from Jacob’s protective eyes.  So, how do they decide to get back at him… how about kill him??  Seems pretty extreme, even for a sibling you really don’t like.  Thank goodness for Reuben, the responsible first-born, he pretended to scheme with his brothers but had every good intention of coming back to rescue Joseph.  In the end, Joseph doesn’t get killed but sold into slavery–out of the way of the other brothers for good (so they think…).

While I feel a bit sorry for Joseph in this part of the narrative, he did seem to flaunt his favored status a bit.  And Jacob, the poor dad, has been led to believe that his son is dead.  But perhaps I feel the most pity for the other brothers–it’s hard to believe that their jealousy raged so strongly that they would consider killing Joseph.  Did they long for the love, attention, and acceptance that their father seemed to direct entirely to Joseph?  Terrible, isn’t it?

But, just like so much of scripture, this passage has the ability to make us look at our own lives.  Do we ever do anything like this??  Perhaps we don’t sell our siblings into slavery, but do we make bad choices because somewhere deep inside we long to be loved and accepted by someone else?  Do we ever do terrible things because of jealousy?  Do we ever throw our family or our friends under the bus so that we get the limelight, the praise, or the attention that we so badly crave?  Can you see yourself in this story?  Ask God to help you see the motives of your heart and to purify anything that is less than good and holy.

Rev. Molly Simpson is the Campus Pastor of Resurrection’s West Campus in Olathe.  She is also the proud new mom of a 2-week old little girl!  Molly can be reached by email,, though she’s checking it a bit sporadically during maternity leave.

9.7.09 Monday Insights from Pastor Andrew Conard

There is significant meaning in Labor Day – honoring the value and dignity of all kinds of honest labor. While I believe that God continues to call me to a life of ordained ministry, I also see clear value in the other ways that I labor. While I was in seminary, I was employed on the grounds crew of the campus. I spent time mowing grass, planting bulbs and tending to flowers. One of the summers during my time in seminary, I lived and worked in Yellowstone National Park as a house keeper at one of the hotels. I was employed to clean rooms and prepare them for guests.

Both of these jobs allowed me to work in ways that lead to tangible results. I could see the bulbs come up in the spring that I had planted the fall before. I knew that when a guest walked into a room that I had cleaned they would be welcomed with fresh linens, clean bathroom and room. I still enjoy working in the yard at our home and seeing tangible results of the work of my hands.

There were times in each of these jobs where I felt as if I blended in to the scenery as people walked by or ignored my presence in a way that seemed to convey that I was not worth recognizing. I remember these experiences and seek to say “Thank you” to people with whom I interact throughout the day. Whether it is someone stocking cans at the grocery store, a gas station attendant taking out the garbage or the barista who prepares a drink for me. What will you do this week to show respect to a hard worker with whom your day intersects?


· joy & effectiveness?

· It’s so easy (and such fun!) to feel superior to others, as Joseph did. Labor Day honors the value and dignity of all kinds of honest labor. Are you able to see clearly the value in your own work, and that of others? Choose one thing you will do this week to show respect to a hard worker you are tempted to feel superior to.

9.4.09 Friday Insights from Darren Lippe

This poignant passage captures the highs & lows of life that all believers encounter.  To help Jacob (& others) to focus on Rachel’s memory, he builds a pillar as a memorial to his wife.  It is all too easy to forget the important people, events, & places of our history.  Memorials serve a vital function to our family, religious, & national heritage.  Some memorials are sorrowful (Pearl Harbor) & some are joyous (The “Last Spike” of the transcontinental railroad in Promontory Summit, Utah).

What if we created a “pillar” of our life’s story?  Each “stone” could represent a significant event in our lives that we would like to remember or to tell others.  As an illustration, a brief version of my pillar is below.  Interestingly, I found that there is a calming perspective gained as I looked back over my “years.”  For example, the “crisis” that came with my first sales presentation in my first job has long since faded away.  The great stress of that HUGE final exam in Financial Accounting now makes me smile.  As I study this pillar I also note the amazing blessings I have enjoyed. 

I think Jacob’s pillar served the same function.  He was not just marking Rachel’s passing but rather celebrating the blessing she had been in his life.  This pillar, over time, could become a great comfort to him as he remembered the love of his life.  Why not take a moment to create your own pillar & consider the blessings that have enriched your life?

Darren Lippe serves as co-leader of the “Loving God” Learning Community at the Church of the Resurrection–and builds interesting “pillars” (below) as well as “ladders” (click here to read his “ladder” blog from Friday, Aug. 21).

Celebrate Parents’ 50TH Wedding Anniversary
Disney World with the family
Mark the Passing of my Grandmother Rosalie
Family Reunion
Mark the Passing of my Mother-in-Law Norma
Children’s Choir, Sunday school, Soccer, Basketball
Mark the Passing of my Grandmother Erma
Becoming a Father for the 2nd time (Jacob)
Trips to Colorado
Becoming a Father for the 1st time (Matthew)
Take Disciple 1
First Home
Honeymoon at Disney World
Wedding in what is now the Student Center
Meet my wife-to-be Doris in Sunday school
Invited to attend Church of the Resurrection
Relocate to Kansas City.  Start telecommuting
Mark the Passing of my Grandfather Ralph
Back to Houston, Texas
Back to Birmingham, Alabama
Join new (& current) company
Relocating to Houston, Texas
Relocating to Birmingham, Alabama
Graduation & First Job
Mark the Passing of my Grandfather Orville
Grow Taller than my Older Brother, David
Confirmation Class
Boy Scouts, Speech Contests, Theater
Disney World with my Brother & Folks
Break arm falling from a bunk bed
Move to Topeka
Birth in Overland Park

9.3.09 Thursday Insights from Penny Ellwood

How many of you know how you got your name?  My name came from my grandmother, I’m told.  My grandmother’s name was Alma Pennock.  She worked as a nurse in the small town where I was raised.  My grandmother was a real people person with a great sense of humor.   She was a strong, independent woman.  She had to be, raising 7 children for a good deal of time as a single mother with no other means of support.  My grandmother loved a good story or joke and was always pulling pranks.  Her easy-going manner and warm friendliness made her well-liked by the patients and the other staff at the hospital.  It was there that my grandmother’s co-workers shortened her last name and began calling her “Penny.”  My mother chose to name me after my grandmother’s nickname. 


 I’ve always liked my name and been proud to have been named after someone I loved so much. And in some sense I have felt that my life’s path has been directed by this naming for I have always felt a strong sense of calling to serve others as my grandmother did and to be strong and independent.  My grandmother wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, in fact I think she was quite a carouser in her younger days, but she cared a great deal about me, about her family, and about those she had the responsibility to care for and she worked very hard at it.   She died at age 72 when I was 16 and I still miss her.  


What does your name mean to you?    Social science research has found that the names we are given at birth carry substantial psychological weight.  We learn to define ourselves by the names we are given. Giving a child any kind of name, whether it be popular, creative, regal-sounding, or based on family or ethnic heritage, can have substantial influence on how a person’s  identity is formed.


 Today’s scripture recounts, for the second time, the renaming of Jacob.  Jacob’s renaming sets the entire course for the remainder of his life.  The naming of a person in either the Old or New Testaments was significant.  It was not simply the indicator by which one is identified and known.  Rather, the name was the indicator and even the predictor of this person’s personality and the nature of the impact that he or she would have upon the world.  And that is the essence of this blessing.  Jacob became Israel.  And with that name change,  he has now become the one who strives with God!  With his conversion from Jacob to Israel, he has become the person to inherit the mantle of Isaac and of Abraham and thus become the patriarch of the chosen people of God. 


How has your name defined you?

9.2.09 Wednesday Insights from Pastor Russell Brown

What a difference an overnight wrestling match can make! Before Jacob’s tumultuous night in the desert, he faced the prospect of meeting Esau with fear and dread. Now, on “the morning after” he approaches his brother full of humility. Contrast the manner in which the two brothers approach each other; Jacob tired and limping and Esau running, full of energy. The gifts that were originally sent to Esau to try and appease an assumed rage were now gifts of gratitude, “… since you have received me with such favor.” (v. 10). For one of the first times in his life, Jacob (in verse 5) credits God as the source of the joy he receives from his family.

Wrestling with God changes our life, as Jacob’s story plainly illustrates. It is interesting to note that the act of wrestling presumes that the beginning point is the encounter of two opposing forces. This story makes me wonder if God would perhaps rather we oppose him than ignore him (the ideal, of course, is that we would trust and obey God!). When we oppose God and wrestle, God has us right where he wants us… locked in an intensely personal encounter. In the heat of that kind of moment there is no way we can prevail against the Creator of the Universe. God has to win and we have to change.

When we turn our backs, pretending  that it all depends on us, there is no encounter at all. God calls out to us, reaches out to us, coaxes and cajoles us, hoping we will turn around and acknowledge his existence and authority. But as humankind has proven over and over again, our capacity to be guided by our pride and self-will is nearly limitless.

When Jacob finally does accept God’s role in his life, we see fear flee, replaced with gratitude. We see pride disappear, replaced with humility. We see self-centeredness take flight, replaced with compassion for those around him.

God is waiting for each one of us to arrive at the same place… whether through a wrestling match or by humble acceptance. The choice is ours.

9.1.09 Tuesday Insights from Darrell Holtz

Nearly four years ago, I remember vividly an afternoon when I stood in my living room and watched, absorbed and delighted, while my grandson practiced his walking. This may be an awful thing for a fond grandfather to say, but I have to tell you–he was terrible at it! He could barely take more than three or four steps at a time without falling down. Sometimes he’d lose his balance and land on his little bottom. At other, scarier times he would pitch forward, endangering his cute little face. But I was delighted because he never quit. Every time he took a tumble, he’d scramble to his feet, balance precariously on those inexperienced legs, and take his next three or four steps before once again losing his battle with gravity.

At some point that afternoon, I got one of those “inner nudges” with which God sometimes speaks to our hearts and minds. I recalled a wonderful passage in C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. The passage describes God’s attitude toward all of us, and it says something like, “He wants them to learn to walk. And if the will to walk is present, He is pleased even with their stumbles.” I realized that, as I smiled at my grandson’s “stumbles” and applauded his halting steps, I was taking part in a living parable of what my spiritual growth must look like from God’s perspective.

I am a recovering perfectionist. I want to get it right the first time, all the time, every time. I don’t want to struggle. I don’t want to wrestle. I don’t want to stumble. That day I realized (and I have to keep reminding myself just about every day since) that, taken to its ultimate conclusion, that attitude would mean I don’t want to walk. I’d have been heartbroken if my grandson had said, “Darn–I’m just no good at this. I quit!” I realized that the very spiritual struggles that seemed so ugly and shameful to me might look beautiful to God–because they mean I’m not quitting.

Jacob wrestled with God, and wouldn’t quit. “I will not let you go until you bless me,” he gasped. So many times I feel like quitting. My struggles and stumbles, my doubts and my failures seem to just keep happening. Won’t I ever get it right? I think of Jacob, limping through his life with the triumphant name “Israel,” which God said meant “You have wrestled with men and with God, and have prevailed.” I guess today, this Tuesday, I’ll get up again, and stumble through another day with God.

Oh, and I saw my grandson, who’s now 5, just last night. I’m so glad he never quit. By now, he walks (and even runs) really well!

Darrell Holtz serves as Program Director for Group Life Writing and Curriculum at The Church of the Resurrection.

8.31.09 Monday Insights from Pastor Andrew Conard

I recognize the feelings behind Jacob’s prayer in my own life. God has shown kindness and faithfulness to me throughout my life, despite all the times that I mess up. I am humbled by God’s acceptance of me just as I am and God’s desire for me to grow toward perfect love of God and neighbor. I know that I am on a lifelong journey and that God’s will continue to be faithful, even when I may be unfaithful to God.

I appreciate the second question from the GPS today as well. There are certainly times in my life when I am fearful and experience anxiety. Sometimes it is reasonable for me to experience these feelings and sometimes my own imagination conjures up scenarios that are not very likely, yet can still grab hold of me and cause fear. I do not believe that fear shows a lack of faith. It is a very real feeling that can be elicited by circumstances in our life. When I do feel frightened, I try to take a deep breath and be intentional about seeking to breath in God’s spirit. I remind myself that God is with me in all circumstances in life and that there is nothing that can separate me from the love of God. I ask for God’s guidance and peace in my life in prayer and set about facing whatever it is that has caused me to be fearful.

With God’s help, I can live in the certainty of God’s love that overcomes fear.

8.28.09 Friday Insights from Darren Lippe

This scene is like watching a parody of “American Idol:  Searching for a Superstar.”  Our scene might be entitled, “Laban’s Idol:  Searching for the One True God.”

Laban hears God’s command to not say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.  This command must have been particularly compelling, because Laban unquestioningly obeyed.  (Fun aside:  note that the God of Jacob KNEW where Jacob was & sought to comfort him.  Laban’s gods couldn’t be found, even with a diligent search.)

Laban’s actions here were so out of character, that Laban felt obligated to explain himself to Jacob.

Then Laban quickly falls back into his old habit & routine.  He’s initially concerned about being deceived & his daughter’s welfare.  (Truth be told, probably more upset about being deceived.)  We then get to the heart of Laban’s issue with Jacob in verse 30 with the question, “Why did you steal my gods?”  (Rachel sure knew how to push her father’s buttons.  She knew what was really important to him.)

This seems so odd.  Why would Laban even care about his idols?  He had just heard from the God of Jacob & instinctively knew He was the real deal.    This split obedience must have been exhausting to Laban.  Here he is worshipping his various gods, yet he knew that the God of Jacob was someone special.

Fortunately, we don’t allow ourselves to fall into a trap like Laban.  Or do we?  Perhaps during worship we find ourselves feeling the nudge from God to serve as a guide for a Sunday school class or to jump into an exciting Bible study.  Then we get into our car & get distracted by our own “bag of idols.”

What might our bag of idols contain?  Perhaps it’s a desire to have our kids on the “right” sports team, even though it’s a huge time commitment for the family.  Maybe we busy ourselves with social obligations that help us feel accepted by a desirable clique.  Maybe it is allowing our lives to be over-scheduled to a point that we “worship” our daily planner.

Let us stop this day & seek God’s forgiveness for the times we may have heard His guidance but let our daily routines & habits inhibit us.  May we learn from Laban & enjoy the freedom of a life simply focused on the one true God.

Darren Lippe serves as co-leader of the “Loving God” Learning Community at The Church of the Resurrection.

8.27.09 Thursday Insights from Correy Trupp

In the book How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth, Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart ask readers of Old Testament narratives to read three different levels of story into each passage. Since this week’s reading is an Old Testament narrative, I thought it might be interesting to break down today’s passage in light of that three-tiered structure.

The top level, often called a meta-narrative, has to do with God’s universal plan worked out through creation. Sometimes called “redemptive history”, this level deals with creation, the fall of humanity, the need for redemption and Christ’s sacrifice and atonement.

The second level is the story of God redeeming a people. In the case of the Old Testament, it is the redemption of the people of Israel from the time of the covenant with Abraham until the restoration of the people after the exile.

The third level contains the hundreds of individual stories that make up the other two levels. In this level, we are looking at the scenes, characters, and plots within each passage. These stories can sometimes illustrate the blessings or curses that come with making choices to be faithful to God. Conversely, they can show times where God works through impure motives or bad situations to still bring about His plan.

So, how can we apply these levels to today’s passage?

First, God is clearly acting in redemption. The ultimate outcome of the dealings between Laban and Jacob end up in Jacob’s favor. God is blessing Jacob and fulfilling His covenant to make Israel a great nation.

Second, by keeping His promise to Abraham, God is keeping in motion events that will ultimately lead to the coming of Jesus Christ and the redemption of the world.  

Third, God seems to be acting in the midst of a situation where two men are trying to outdo one another. The positive result for Jacob is not due to his cunning, his techniques for breeding sheep, or Laban’s deception. In this case, God is acting to ensure Jacob prospers and is setting the stage for the next part of the story.

Sometimes it is easy to get lost in these ancient stories. Applying this approach to reading the narratives can help us see where and how God is moving, and what we can learn from the people in the story.

Correy Trupp serves as Director of Group Life at The Church of the Resurrection.

8.26.09 Wednesday Insights from Pastor Nicole Conard

Today’s Scripture was highlighted in the sermon this weekend in Act 2, Scene 3:Infertility. (If you have not heard the sermon from this weekend, find 30 minutes sometime today at watch it. If you struggle with infertility, here is the support group information for infertility/miscarriage that Pastor Adam referred to.)  

Leah and Rachel are so similar, yet different. Both women want something that they cannot control.  Leah wants Jacob’s love. Rachel wants a child. Both are feeling great confusion, guilt, anger, and loneliness. Both do all in their power to change the situation – spending more time with Jacob, drinking the mandrake drinks, crying out to God for help, and sending their servants.   

The “discussion”  between Leah and Rachel reveals a bitter envy of one another.  Imagine living day in and day out seeing your sibling have the object of your envy. It’s a bitter time. 

In the midst of great anguish, pain and suffering, God still works. The story is not just about the women’s struggles, it is also how each of the children (the sons) would lead nations of the 12 tribes of Israel.  

Where is God in all this? God sees affliction, hears the cries of the women, remembers them and works with them to help take away their understanding of disgrace. In all situations, God works in the midst of pain, anguish and suffering to make something good . We may not know what it is but we have faith  God is with us in the suffering and transforms the mourning into peace, love and even  joy.  This is the good news for us today.