Monthly Archives: March 2012

What Would You Do With $540 million?

At 9pm tonight, at least one person’s life is going to change forever. And chances are, you’re probably wasting time today envisioning yourself as that person.

Do I even need to explain myself?

The big news story today is tonight’s Mega Millions lottery drawing with an estimated jackpot of $540 million. This is the largest lottery jackpot in world history with the winner receiving 26 annual payments of a little more than $19 million or one lump payment of $389 million. Seems to me that going with the lump payment is akin to being giving back $181 million of your hard-earned…umm…I mean winnings.

Your Chances Of Winning The $540 Mill…

Not that I’m trying to rain on anyone’s victory parade, but the chances of winning tonight’s jackpot are one in 176 million, according to the Associated Press. If you think those are winnable odds, take a gander at the odds below. You have…

  • 1 in 1 million chances of being struck by lightning
  • 1 in 10 million chances of becoming U.S. president
  • 1 in 13.2 million chances of becoming an astronaut

Let’s look at it this way: You’re 176 times more likely to be struck by lightening, 17.6 times more likely of being elected president, and 13.3 times more likely of becoming an astronaut. Of course, the odds of winning are in your favor compared to becoming an astronaut who’s elected president and then is struck by lightening.

It’s kind of like that scene in the movie Dumb and Dumber when Jim Carry’s character expresses his affection for his love interest and asks, “What are my chances?”

“Not good,” she replies.

“You mean, not good like one out of a hundred?”

“I’d say more like one out of a million.”

“So you’re telling me there’s a chance!”

I’m telling you there’s a chance! And someone is probably going to win tonight when the winning ticket is pulled at 11pm eastern time.

Richard Lustig has won the lottery seven times and even wrote a book about it where he shares his secrets. He reportedly lets the machine pick the numbers every time.

What Would You Do With The Money?

If you won tonight’s lottery, what would you do with all that money?

Buy that sports care you’ve been dreaming about?

Purchase a small Caribbean island and declare yourself a sovereign country?

Travel around the world—over and over again?

$540 million! Of course, that’s before  uncle Sam gets a piece of the action.

Don McNay, author of the book “Son of a Son of a Gambler: Winners, Losers and What to Do When You Win the Lottery,” says nine out of 10 winners go through their money in five years or less.

This common malady  affects many sudden millionaires. Not long ago, NBA basketball star Allen Iverson declared that he was broke after earning over $200 million in his career. Sixty percent of all NBA players are reportedly broke within five years of retiring. Where does all that money go? You’d be surprised.

Easy come, easy go.

But all of this discussion about getting by on half a billion dollars reminds me of Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:26, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (ESV)

The stories of people who gained the whole world and lost everything are legion.

Eventually, every winner needs to find a reason for living. A purpose. And spending all that money doesn’t meet the criteria. If anything, winning the lottery only exposes and accentuates the real person deep inside. The person you are before you win the money is the person you have to live with after you win the money.

Winning a boatload of money is nice. If it drifts my way, I’ll take it. But it isn’t the key to happiness or purpose.

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. If he wins tonight’s lottery, he wants to form a foundation that plants neighborhood churches around the world. Incidentally, if you don’t have plans for Palm Sunday (April 1) or Easter (April 8) and you live in the Denver area, please join us at The Neighborhood Church.

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What Would the Third Most Important Person in History Do?

Most lists include Jesus as the third most important person in human history. Third! Have they never watched “Talhedega Nights”? And no, the two finishing in front of Jesus are not the other Persons in the Trinity.

But seriously, Muhammad and Isaac Newton nose Jesus out at the finish line in these lists mainly because Jesus shares credit for the founding of Christianity with the Apostle Paul (#6) and because Jesus did not start a political movement.

WWJD in Politics?

Agree or disagree with Jesus’ third place finish, it is true Jesus was not very political. Why then are so many people today trying to enlist Jesus in their political causes? Why not ask What Would Muhammad Do? Or What Would Isaac Do?

Instead everyone from PETA to President Obama is asking WWJD? as a way to add biblical street cred to their ideas. The animal rights organization PETA prints the words “What would Jesus do?” over pictures of animals being killed. At the end of the video they answer for a silent Jesus and conclude, “Go vegetarian.” Trouble is he didn’t go vegetarian.

And though I could find no citable examples of the Religious Right using the WWJD phrase, religious conservatives have long implied Jesus may be on their side politically. They may have been the first to have drafted him to their team.

But the Religious Left has since piled on. Sojourners, speaking for the Religious Left, wonders, “Would Jesus Occupy Wall Street?” After exegeting many of Jesus’ actions as not only religious but rather political, and claiming Jesus was an angry activist, author Aaron D. Taylor answers his own question with, “I don’t see how a person [Jesus] can be an angry activist and a friend of aristocrats at the same time.” Problem is Jesus did have several aristocratic friends: Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea to name two.

Rabbi Eliyahu Fink calls this “transparent political pandering.” I think it’s worse than pandering. It shows either a towering ignorance of Jesus or a dangerous dishonesty. Or both. I have a friend who believes that because Jesus pulled a coin from the mouth of a fish and told Peter to use it to pay his taxes, Jesus is for taxes and, in this case, for raising them on the “rich.”

WWJD in Weird Ways

Victoria Emily Jones says, “The phrase “What Would Jesus Do?” has become a snowclone, a phrasal template that’s customizable to suit any purpose.  A lot of its present-day derivatives have nothing to do with Jesus, but instead substitute his name with somebody else’s.”

Jones is on to something. Many, however, are not merely using the WWJD? phrase as a snowclone, but rather are using Jesus himself that way, substituting Jesus for themselves in their political beliefs.

It’s the faulty “name it and claim it” theology (Jesus said for you to give me your money) being applied to politics (Jesus said you should join my political cause).

Neither false belief have much more to do with Jesus except using his name as a snowclone.

Jesus as a Reflection of Me

What this amounts to is not an attempt to honestly follow Jesus and to live life as the third most important person in history did. But rather it is striving to show Jesus would have followed us. In this way, we treat Jesus as a mirror’s reflection of ourselves mimicking our every move.

This is troubling first because it is so narcissistic. Second because it gives me permission to stay stuck in my misperceptions and misbehaviors that are destructive to myself and others.

Follow Jesus

What would Jesus do? My reading of his four biographies shows Jesus would challenge nearly every foundational belief in my life, either for me to deepen them beyond my shallow perception, or to throw them out because they are self-serving lies. Knowing which is tricky. Yet Jesus has often asked the latter of me.

Jesus said, “Take up your cross and follow me” not “Make up your slogan and recruit me.”

I know some of you reading this may not believe Jesus was the Son of God. That’s a subject for another conversation. You may simply think Jesus was merely the third (or second or tenth) most important person in history. What is undeniable is that, without starting a political party, enlisting a military, or founding a government, Jesus has impacted billions of lives.

Whether you believe Jesus was God Incarnate or not, my living spiritually challenge for next week (Holy Week) is this:

Read one of Jesus‘ biographies (Mark and Luke are very straightforward) and choose several humanly accomplishable things Jesus did. Then each new day of the week attempt to do that very thing.

For example:

Monday I will forgive something big the way Jesus did; Tuesday I will spend time with some children; Wednesday I will look at someone I disapprove of or am afraid of with non-judgmental eyes, Thursday I will not defend myself if accused or attacked; Friday I will give grace and mercy to someone who may not deserve it; then Sunday I will replace my fear of the future with faith.

I do not want this to be an exercise in perfectionism, nor in futility and frustration. More than likely it will take more than one day to accomplish any of the above. And if I know myself, I will fail at one or more of the above. What I do desire is to know and experience the attempt. What do I feel when I succeed or fail? What have I learned about myself? What have I learned about Jesus?

What would the third most important person in history do? Unfortunately not a lot that I fill my daily life with. Maybe this week I’ll find out. Join me please.

Eugene C. Scott doesn’t wear bracelets or outfits. Jesus didn’t either. He also loves to read and write stories. Eugene is currently writing another blog called The Year of Living Spiritually. You can join the Living Spiritually community by following that blog and clicking here and liking the page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.

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Mighty To Save

If you have ever talked to me in person, or read any of my blogs, you know I drone on and on about how I taught PE at the Inter-American School in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala from 2008-2011.  It was truly a life changing experience.  As the gym teacher, I saw my job as twofold, first to challenge the kids athletically, but also to challenge them spiritually.  I can’t speak for how God used me to work in my students lives, but I do know God used them to constantly challenge me.

When I moved back to Colorado last June, I was not the same person who flew down to Guatemala in August of 2008.

I’d become more of the man God created me to be.

I think a big part of my change was opening my heart to my students and letting God work through them.  And so this last week I had the chance give back to them in return.  My dad (Also known as The Rev. Dr. E. C. Scott), Mike and Stacey Davis, and I flew down to Guatemala to lead a Spiritual Emphasis Week for all my students.   My prayer going into the trip was that God would open the hearts of my students and that my heart would remain open to all He had for me.

On the first day my heart melted during all school chapel.

The video above is from one of our all school chapels.  Listen to it with an open heart.  Watch the video and listen for the truth in the lyrics and the passion in the voices.

Almost a year after moving away, I was moved to tears when I saw all of my students and  heard them belt out, “My Savior, he can move the mountains.”

My God is mighty to save.

He is Mighty to save.

Remember, God calls us to be like little children.  Maybe we need to sing with the passion and confidence these little kids sang with.  Our God is the author of salvation.

I wrote this blog for another blog the Neighborhood Church is doing during the season of Lent.  Join the Pascha community for daily devotionals and reflections on how God has moved in our lives through art, song, and nature.  You can find the blog by clicking here.  Enjoy!

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What The Hunger Games Tell Us About Ourselves

Midnight last night, the next blockbuster movie series opened in theaters across the country.

The Hunger Games is a futuristic trilogy that depicts a desolate, yet believable, post-apocalyptic world in what was once North America. After a rebellion from the outlying districts, the central government of Panem works hard to keep the losing side under their thumb through acts of control and cruelty.

Most horrifying is an annual reality show featuring young people chosen from the land’s various outlying districts. Every year on Reaping Day, a boy and a girl (ages 12 to 18) from each of the 12 districts are chosen by lottery to fight to the death in a televised gladiator event. The participants are called “tributes.” Residents of the Capitol, who prevailed in the rebellion aren’t required to participate in them.

Most of the districts despise the Games because they serve as a constant reminder of their defeat in the rebellion 70 years before, and of course, it costs them two of their beloved children every year. Viewing the Hunger Games is mandatory.

The protagonist in the story is a wily 16 year old girl named Katniss Everdeen (played by Jennifer Lawrence) who volunteers to take her younger sister’s place in the games.

Our family missed the Harry Potter and Twilight fads. However, this book series has mesmerized us. Despite not being much of a fiction reader, I found the story extremely compelling. I haven’t seen the movie (we’re going tonight!) although my niece attended last night’s midnight premier and loved it.

What The Hunger Games Tells Us About Us

The book series portrays the Capitol as an unmistakable cross between the ancient Roman empire and a futuristic United States.

Residents of the Capitol wear outrageous clothing and extravagant make-up. They gorge themselves at banquets and then purge so they can gorge themselves again. Their bloodlust is seemingly never satisfied, which is why they  absolutely adore the Hunger Games.

Sounds a little like us.

I don’t know a great deal about Suzanne Collins, the author, although my compadre Eugene Scott reported in an earlier blog post  that the idea for the story is the result of Collins channel surfing between a reality show and war footage late one night. She confesses, “I was really tired, and the lines between these stories started to blur in a very unsettling way.”

Some critics complain that the story lacks any religious influence or redeeming value. I disagree.

My niece made an interesting comment about her experience in the movie theater last night:

The worst part? When the audience cheered the death of a tribute…I wanted to yell at them all, to say that they were no better than the Capital[sic].

Perhaps Collins is describing what we’re becoming: a godless, bloodthirsty, reality-TV driven, consumeristic  society. What’s the fastest growing sport in America? Mixed Martial Arts fighting. Viewers can’t can’t get enough of the bloody brawls. Reality TV seems to be driving the media. And all the while, we become increasingly narcissistic.

Ironically, the Lenten theme at our church is entitled “Hungry?” All of us are hungry. To satisfy it, we often reach for anything sensational,  titillating, and adrenaline-producing. Yet we can never get enough. Ultimately, the logical end of our futile pursuits brings us to the destruction of our souls.

Jesus, on the other, offers something that does satisfy. Himself.

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” John 6:35

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. If you don’t have plans for Palm Sunday (April 1) or Easter (April 8), and you live in the Denver area, please join us at The Neighborhood Church.

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With These Two Hands I’ll Change the World

If you look close, you can often catch joy and sadness walking hand in hand.

Photo by Brendan Scott

I did anyway while on a ten-day mission trip in Guatemala. At a school in Xela, our team played crazy games like Zombie Tag, where the kids laughed and ran and mumbled, “Must eat brain, must eat brain.” In chapel services those same kids sang, “Sin has lost it’s power, Death has lost its sting, From the grave You’ve risen VICTORIOUSLY” at the tops of their lungs. Zombies, even pretend ones, singing about the ultimate anti-zombie, Jesus, was beautiful and hilarious. The kids listening with rapt attention when we told our stories about how God loved all of us was pure joy.

This was mingled with the sadness of watching street boys, ages nine or ten working, shining shoes on the square, or the little Mayan girls carrying their heavy burdens on their heads to work instead of to school. Or the blind man begging, or the two gringas wobbling down the street drunk at about 4 in the afternoon. Deep. Sadness. I wanted so to be able to tell them too of the love of God for them.

Photo by Eugene Scott

I noticed something else about joy and sadness (I have seen this before but always forget). Wealth and joy were not always hand in hand, nor were sadness and poverty. There they were together, wealth and poverty, sadness and joy arm-wrestling. The wealthy do not have a market on joy nor the poor on sadness.

Hurt, pain, worry cut across all lines, as does laughter and song.

I remembered then that our problems and our hopes are deeper than dollars can dig. Maybe that is why God does not simply throw money at us when we ask for help.

The poet and prophet Isaiah told his people in a time of deep poverty and sadness that God would one day “bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.”

As Ben Harper sings, God wants to use our two hands locked together, along with joy and sadness, to work this miraculous exchange of beauty for ashes for all of us.

Eugene C. Scott is most moved by being with people and seeing God in them. You can join the Living Spiritually community by following that blog and clicking here and liking the page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.

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Eye of the Storm

The world was falling apart all around me. I was five, huddled into a hotel room in Sumter, South Carolina. We had traveled an hour and half inland to seek refuge from Hurricane Hugo. The bumper-to-bumper traffic on every road headed west was over-flowing with our fellow evacuees. Our home was on the very river forecasters were predicting the hurricane to make landfall over, we had no choice but to leave. Hugo was a strong category four hurricane and we rightfully feared the worst.

Sumter wasn’t far enough as tornadoes ripped the town to shreds during the night. I’ll never forget the sounds of that night, as if the wind turned to metal and proceeded to clash with the very gods. The carnage that we awoke to the next day proved greater than we could imagine. As we drove home around downed trees and power lines, witnessing others’ homes who had been destroyed, we hoped to find our coastal home still standing. Hope may be an overstatement.

Anyone who has lived trough a severe hurricane knows the power that they wield, power to destroy. They deserve their names because unlike any other weather phenomenon, they have a personality, a vengeance and sometimes a grace. We talk about them like we knew them, because we did.

One of the unique characteristic of hurricanes are their eyes. When you look a satellite image of one, it stares at you ominously. It is from this core the whole storm derives its sheer force but phenomenally, the eye is absolutely calm.

The eye of Hugo missed our home to the south but I had friends who braved (or fooled) out the storm and found themselves in the eye. They reported that it was like the storm had ended, they would walk out to a light breeze and rays of sun. But swirling all around them were 150 mile per hour winds ravaging everything in its path. But there was safety in the eye.

Jesus tells his followers that in this world we will have trouble and a quick look around affirms this teaching. When we read the headlines and listen to the stories around us, it can seem as if the world is falling apart. It is more scary than gods clashing because it seems as if the gods have left us and hope in safety is hopeless.

But just as Jesus promised us trouble, he promises us joy in its very presence. This is not a disembodied joy where everything is perfect and clean, but joy that finds itself knee-deep in the mud; a joy found in the very eye of the storm.

And what is the source of this joy? Jesus has overcome death.

As the world rages, we know the story does not end there but that even through that rage, joy will come. Because we do not hope in ourselves or the gods, but in the crucified and resurrected Jesus. The one who found himself in the eye of the storm on the cross, as all the pain of the world cam crashing down on him and death itself took him. But the power of love, the power of God gave him the last laugh.

Its a bit like Lieutenant Dan riding out the hurricane from the mast of Gump’s shrimp boat, we find our peace with God in the very face of death, in the eye of the storm.

Michael is the pastor of the Church @ Argenta in North Little Rock, AR. You can read his blog here.

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Death And The Pillsbury Doughboy

Recently, on a hot afternoon in Arkansas, a woman was sitting in her car in a grocery store parking lot when she heard a loud pop followed by a sharp pain in the back of her head.

When she reached behind her to probe the damage, she felt something warm oozing down the back of her head. She concluded that she had been shot and in her hands she was holding the remnants of her brain.

To avoid any further bleeding and the possibility of her brains rushing out of her head, the woman held her hands tightly over the wound. Her only hope was that somebody would walk by her car, see her in her critical condition, and call an ambulance before she passed out and died.

A few long minutes later, a voice behind her asked, “Ma’am, are you OK?”

“I’ve been shot in the head,” she cried out, “and I’m holding my brains in.”

“Lady, I don’t think those are brains.”

The inquisitor then opened the rear car door and reached to grab something…

“A canister of Pillsbury biscuits in the back seat exploded from the heat and some of the dough hit you in the head.”

When people share their near-death experiences, surely this woman will talk about how the Pillsbury doughboy changed her life.

Death Is All Around Us

Death greatly impacts our lives. We all think about it, dream about it, and do anything we can to avoid it. We work out and eat right in order to delay its inevitable arrival. We lament the departure of our loved ones while watching movies that glorify the living dead, whom we call “zombies.”

Woody Allen once said, “I’m not afraid to die. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

Death is so extreme, so painful, so…final. When someone dies, you can’t go back and revive the person.

In Ezekiel 37, God escorts Ezekiel to the middle of a valley.  All around them, as far as the eye could see, are piles of bones. Not comatose bodies that can be revived. Not even decaying carcasses.  Dry bones

God and Ezekiel wade through the sea of bones before the Almighty asks his companion, “Can these bones become living people again?”

Assuming this was a trick question, Ezekiel replies, “God, you tell me!”

I can imagine Ezekiel was thinking What do you mean, “Can these bones become living people?”  I’ve seen you do some amazing things. You’ve given me words of prophecy that have been fulfilled. You’ve provided for me and protected me. But let’s get serious—raise the dead? From these dry bones?  God, I’m leaving the answer to that question up to you.

Later, God tells Ezekiel, “These bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off’” (v.11).

At the time, Israel was enslaved by the vastly superior Babylonians. Israel’s strongest and smartest were living in Babylon while the poor and uneducated were struggling to stay alive in what was left of their war-torn country.

The chances of Israel rising from the ashes was about the same as the chances of the dry bones returning to life. All hope was gone.

Then God instructed Ezekiel, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!’”

Soon Ezekiel heard a rattling sound from the bones coming together. Tendons appeared, then flesh, then skin. Bodies appeared everywhere, but they had no life.

The God instructed Ezekiel a second time: “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’ ”

Suddenly, the bodies began to move. They stood to their feet fully alive. A valley of dry bones transformed into a vast army.

Where are you in this story?

How often do we encounter situations when we expect life, but instead, we experience death?

  • A miscarriage
  • You get laid off from your job
  • A bad investment buries you under an overwhelming load of debt
  • Your marriage fails to live up to your expectations
  • A lifelong dream dies a slow death

I have good news for you.

Just because you’re surrounded by dry bones doesn’t mean they’re going to stay that way. Regardless of what you feel and see, God knows your situation and he’s already at work. The results may not appear like you expect, but God is good, he’s powerful, and he knows what he’s doing.

Like the woman in her car who thought she was dying,  you may think you’re holding your life in your hands, but it’s only the remains of a Pillsbury dough mishap. Your life is in God’s hands.

At this point in our Lenten journey, death is all around us. We see the hopelessness of our own condition. But remember that Easter is coming.

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. If you live in the Denver, Colorado area, please join the for worship on Easter Sunday. You can learn more at http://www.tnc3.org.

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