Author Archives: Michael J. Klassen

About Michael J. Klassen

Since 1987, I've served as a pastor in various churches. Currently I'm co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church (www.tnc3.org) in Littleton, Colorado. Since 1997, I've written or ghostwritten 12 books and worked on 26 study Bibles. I'm convinced that God changes lives through daily meditation on Scripture. Many people agree, but they feel overwhelmed at the prospect of reading the Bible. What do they read? And how can they understand a book that's over 2000 years old? My hope with this blog is to guide people through the Bible in one year--and provide a forum for my readers to share how God speaks to them through it.

Famous (And Not-So-Famous) Last Words

“You have won, O Galilean”
Emperor Julian, after his failed attempt to reverse the official endorsement of Christianity by the Roman Empire.

“No, you certainly can’t.”
John F. Kennedy to Nellie Connelly, wife of Governor John Connelly, who commented, “You certainly can’t say that the people of Dallas haven’t given you a nice welcome, Mr. President.”

“Thomas Jefferson survives…”
Former U.S, president John Adams, commenting on his former political nemesis (actually, Jefferson had died earlier that same day).

“Is it the Fourth?”
Former president Thomas Jefferson (he and John Adams died on July 4, 1826).

“I am about to—or I am going to—die: either expression is correct.”
Dominique Bouhours, French grammarian, d. 1702

“Go on, get out! Last words are for fools who haven’t said enough.”
Revolutionary Karl Marx to his housekeeper, who urged him to tell her his last words so she could write them down for posterity.

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
Jesus Christ (Luke 23:46)

My (Not-So-Famous) Last Words

At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, this blog post is the final post, at least in this format.

January 1, 2010, I launched A Daily Bible Conversation, inviting family, friends, and anyone else who might be interested, into reading through the Bible in a year. Within weeks, readers from all over the world were responding to my invitation.

People like Elna Dreyer became friends, although she lived on the other side of the world in South Africa. Murray Downie from Australia joined in on the conversation. Soon, the blog attracted readers from Saudi Arabia, Bolivia, and England and beyond.

And my world grew smaller.

A Quick And Easy Way To Burn Out

Reading through the Bible together was fascinating, but by June of that year, I was running out of steam. Try writing 800 words a day 150 days in a row. That’s insane!

Fortunately, my co-pastor Eugene Scott came to the rescue. He offered to write two days a week and advised me to combine Saturday and Sunday. Suddenly, writing four days a week became much more manageable.

By the end of the year, I had written around 360,000 words. That’s the equivalent of over seven books! I also wrote a book with an author that year, which brought my total to eight books. Ridiculous.

The next year, Eugene and I decided to rename the blog The Neighborhood Café and write once a week. Then we added other writers who contributed once a week. Thanks Michael Gallup and Brendan Scott!

Two Options For The Future

As this last summer progressed, Eugene and I discussed our dreams for taking the blog into the future. After realizing we wanted to move in different directions, we amicably decided to bring this blog to a close and follow our dreams.

Eugene’s blog is entitled Living Spiritually. If you’d like to subscribe, click here. Thank you, Eugene, for pulling me out of the deep waters when I was drowning in blog posts. You are a valued colleague and friend.

After today, I’m inaugurating a new blog which I’m calling God Meets Culture. The purpose of the blog reflects the title:  discussing the intersection of God and culture. I’ll offer various thoughts on the subject as well as a book, video, quote, or website of the month.

As time progresses, I’ll offer resources for aspiring writers as well.

To subscribe, click here and then click on “Follow blog via email” in the right-hand column. Please bear with me as I pull the website together.

Thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings. Hopefully in some way they made a difference in your life.

Michael J. Klassen

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott.

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Why You Want To Live Scared (At Least A Little)

“Stand back,” the man behind the counter instructed me. “Hold out your cone and I’ll throw you the scoop of ice cream.”

People in the ice cream shop fixed their eyes on me as I focused on the man behind the counter. Knowing my lack of hand-eye coordination, I knew I was taking a risk. Everyone in front of me had opted for ice cream served to them in a cup, but that day, I decided to live dangerously.

All Of Us Want To Live Meaningful Lives

“The abundant life is not a comfortable life, it’s a meaningful life,” wrote author Donald Miller in a recent Facebook post.

Nor is it a pain-free life, I might add.

Reflecting on an uncomfortable (to say the least) summer filled with disappointment, frustration, and pain, I think I’ve gleaned at least one gold nugget that I hope to carry with me into the future.

While on vacation in another state, our family was trying to make the most of the week, despite the fact that my wife had broken a bone in her ankle. We were renting a house on a large lake and whiling the day away water-skiing and tubing.

A family that joined us had four children. One of the kids pursued his passion for fishing while two of the others learned to water-ski. One kid, however, did her best to avoid any activity that involved risk or the potential for pain. Occasionally I was able to coax her into riding on a tube behind our boat—but she jumped off whenever I drove too fast or too crazy.

At first, this girl’s pursuit of the safe, pain-free life irritated me. But then I began to realize that she isn’t alone. In many ways, I tend to live like her. Perhaps you do, too.

I think the solution boils down to living scared.

If You Want A Memory, You Have To Risk Something

“Do one thing every day that scares you,” Eleanor Roosevelt once said.

Obviously, we shouldn’t live every day paralyzed by fear, as I discussed in a previous blog post.

But living scared means taking risks. John Ortberg once wrote a book entitled “If You Want To Walk On Water, You’ve Got To Get Out Of The Boat.” Too many of us want memories of walking on the water without taking the risk of dipping our toes in the water.

What does it mean to live scared? For me it means planting a church–which I did four years ago with my good friend Eugene Scott. It means working at becoming a better water-skier, standing up to someone who intimidates me, or sharing my faith with a friend. It also means the possibility of dropping my ice cream on the floor.

In the end, I caught the flying ice cream…sort of. After it hit my shirt, I wrestled it into my cone. Walking to my table to join the family, I sat down with a feeling of accomplishment–and the chocolate stain served as my trophy.

No longer do I want to live scared.

What does it mean for you to live scared?

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. Isaiah 41:1 (NLT)

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. His most recent venture into living scared was volunteering to provide leadership for a local school district mill levy and bond issue.

One note: The Daily Bible Conversation blog is shuttering its doors at the end of August…at least for now. The blog has run its course, so Michael, Eugene, and Brendan will direct their energies in other areas. Beginning September 7, Michael will begin a new blog entitled “God Meets Culture” at michaeljklassen.com.

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The Secret To Finishing Well

A few years ago, Kelley and I flew to Los Angeles to see our oldest daughter Anna, who was a sophomore at Westmont College in nearby Santa Barbara. And since we were in the neighborhood, we decided to run in the Los Angeles Marathon. This was Kelley’s second marathon and my first.

Obviously, this wasn’t a last minute decision. We had dedicated ourselves to training the four months leading up to the race.

Running a marathon is probably the third hardest thing I’ve ever done—after writing a book (16 and counting) and being married. Here are a few thoughts that hit me during the run:

Every Person Runs A Different Race

Despite running the same 26.2 mile route, all 26,000 people ran the Los Angeles Marathon with different concerns in mind. I was concerned about re-injuring my calf (which I tore two weeks earlier). Kelley was concerned about aggravating the plantar fasciitis in her heel. Everyone was concerned about finishing. Ironically, my calf never bothered me while Kelley’s heel refused to cooperate. Nevertheless, I sustained a painful foot injury on mile 13 and hobbled the rest of the way to the end. During a marathon, weird injuries can materialize out of nowhere.

Whatever race you’re running, avoid the temptation to compare yourself to others–because they’re running a different race than you.

Injuries Happen

Days before the race, I explained my concerns about my calf injury to a veteran marathoner. She told me, “Everybody who runs a marathon is dealing with some kind of an injury.”

Most of us begin our lives injury-free, only to sustain bumps and bruises along the way. We all get knocked around in the course of our lives. How we respond to those injuries determines how we finish the race. So don’t be surprised when pain hits. It goes with the territory.

Everyone Who Finishes Wins

While training, veterans advised me, “Don’t try to break any records on your first race—just make it your goal to finish.” When my foot injury materialized out of nowhere, I asked myself, How can I  run another 13 miles with this kind of pain? Everything within me wanted to quit. I actually considered spending the $20 in my pocket to pay for a cab that would transport me to the finish line.

In the middle of my pain, I ran past a café, where a man sat at an outdoor table enjoying his breakfast. When he saw the grimace on my face, he looked at me, pointed at an empty chair next to him. His gesture was an apparent invitation to join him for breakfast. I shook my head, fixed my eyes on the road in front of me, and kept running.

I couldn’t think about mile 15 or mile 21—all I could think about was finishing. But in order to reach my goal, I would need to run one mile at a time. When I completed mile 13, my next goal became mile 14, then mile 15.

Although my time wasn’t as fast as I had hoped, I was relieved once I crossed the finish line. At that point, my time didn’t matter. I finished. Sometimes life is painful…but you just keep going on.

We’re all running in a race, but the goal isn’t to beat everybody else, the goal is to finish. Sometimes you just have to bear down and grind through the pain. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” (Ephesians 6:13). Sometimes the most courageous thing you can do is stand. You don’t have to look victorious–all you must do is not give up.

We all run in a race. We all sustain injuries along the way and we all can come up with excuses to quit.

So what will you do?

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. He tried running a second marathon a year ago, which didn’t go nearly as well as the first. After a 15 month hiatus, he’s getting back into shape and focusing on running 10k’s.

One note: The Daily Bible Conversation blog is shuttering its doors at the end of August…at least for now. The blog has run its course, so Michael, Eugene, and Brendan will direct their energies in other areas. Beginning September 7, Michael will begin a new blog entitled “God Meets Culture” at michaeljklassen.com.

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One Easy Way To Put An End To Hate

Last Sunday morning, Milwaukee, Wisconsin experienced a repeat performance of the tragic Aurora shooting from three weeks ago. The gunman, Wade Page, shot six people and wounded four others in a Sikh temple before eventually taking his life.

Since then, news outlets have been reporting that Page had ties to white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups. He also reportedly played in two white power bands.

Seems like the hate quotient in our country has increased exponentially over the last year or two.

So how do we put an end to it?

First of all, I think we need to stop talking about it.

Is it just me, or does it seem that our culture is throwing the word “hate” around like an errant Tim Tebow pass? Seems like our society is fixated on hate. Consider the recent additions to the English lexicon:

  • Hate rock
  • Hate crime
  • Hate groups
  • Hate monger
  • Hate speech

You’ve heard of FaceBook, but you may be surprised to know that there’s a HateBook where people can list their many hates.

Back in the day, the word “hate” was reserved for incorrigibles like Adolf Hitler or more recently Fred Phelps. Wade Page or James Holmes (the Aurora shooter) would surely fit into that category. But today, the word dominates the rhetoric in national news.

Once You Start You Can’t Stop

A few months ago I stopped at a nearby hardware store to pick up some household repair items. I asked a clerk for advice on a certain purchase, and this is what he said,

Actually, I think you’d be better off going with the ¾ bolt, actually. Then, actually, you’ll need to buy this nut. Actually, actually, you’ll find that it holds things together much better. Actually.

During our 2 minute conversation, he employed the word “actually” 14 times (I counted!). When I returned home, I shared my experience with my wife.

“So,” she asked after I finished telling my story, “when do you plan on beginning your project?”

“Actually, I thought I’d start tomorrow morning because, actually, I was planning on answering some emails tonight. Actually.”

I gulped because I knew I had been infected.

The next couple of days, the dreaded word kept appearing in my vocabulary. At times I knew it was coming but I still couldn’t stop it. The guy at the hardware store had given me the virus.

Throwing the word “hate” around works the same way. The more we talk about it, the more it appears in our vocabulary. And the more it appears in our vocabulary, the more common it becomes. Nowadays, a disagreement or debate can be considered
“hate speech.” Ironically, accusing people of hate can be in itself an act of hate.

While Wade Page performed with his white power heavy metal group, the lyrics in his songs assuredly expressed the hate that he already felt. But they also energized his burning hatred inside.

I realize this isn’t the magic pill—but we need to change the way we talk.

Our words are performative. If I stand in front of a mirror every day telling myself, “Mike, I hate you,” I’ll begin to believe it.

But if we change the way we talk to each other, we just might turn back the tide on hate.

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt. Colossians 4:6 (NIV)

 Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. He’s doing his best to recover from his “Actually” virus.

One note: The Daily Bible Conversation blog is shuttering its doors at the end of August…at least for now. The blog has run its course, so Michael, Eugene, and Brendan will direct their energies in other areas. Beginning September 7, Michael will begin a new blog entitled “God Meets Culture” at michaeljklassen.com.

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Would Jesus Eat At Chik-fil-A?

Last Wednesday, the old culture war from the 1980s and 90s was stirred up again. Dan Cathy’s comments  to The Baptist Press newspaper were broadcast across the country. His father Truett Cathy founded the Chik-fil-A restaurant chain and Dan serves as the company president and COO.

Because the media survives on sound bytes and snippets of information, few if any outlets broadcasted Cathy’s entire interview. And for good reason—readers lose their attention so quickly that few people would read it.

Ironically, Cathy was discussing this impossibility of a “Christian” business. He prefaced his controversial remarks by saying,

Christ never died for a corporation. He died for you and me. In that spirit … [Christianity] is about a personal relationship. Companies are not lost or saved, but certainly individuals are.

Then he continued…

We are very much supportive of the family, the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.

That’s it. He said nothing about gay marriage in the interview.

Nevertheless, Cathy’s words were carried in various media outlets, which led to the media storm and ensuing culture war (to review the sordid events, click here. And last Wednesday, it culminated with “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.” Long lines of people showed up at the restaurant to demonstrate their support, the prohibition of gay marriage, and/or the right to free speech.

In opposition, protestors are commissioning today as “Same-Sex Kiss Day.”

Which begs the question: would Jesus eat at Chik-fil-A?

While answering on behalf of Jesus is a risky venture, here’s my guess.

Yes and no.

No, because Jesus never made an issue about rights. He never argued for free speech nor did he even defend himself in the face of false accusations. Paul describes Jesus this way:

He made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:7–8 NIV)

Jesus didn’t demand his rights. He laid them down. This is very difficult for any American because our nation was founded on the importance of rights.

So my hunch is, Jesus probably would have refrained from eating at Chik-fil-A last Wednesday because the issue was all about rights—the right (or not) to be in a gay marriage and the right to free speech. Non-participation in “Chik-fil-A Appreciation Day” is not a demonstration for or against the cause.

On the other hand, my hunch is that he would have eaten at Chik-fil-A on Thursday. Why? Because he loves the workers and likely wouldn’t want to see them lose their jobs. Plus, he gave the idea for their amazing chicken sandwiches to Truett Cathy and would probably want to enjoy them from time to time.

But while we’re on the subject, I’d like to offer some thoughts about navigating our way through this mess. In regard to differences in opinion on lifestyle choices, we can approach each others’ differences in a number of ways:

Brain-washing. One party forces another party to believe and behave in a certain way. 

Oppression. One party forces another party to behave in a certain way.

Tolerance. One party forces another party to accept and approve of certain behaviors.

Respect. Both parties agree to disagree on certain behaviors, but act civil-y toward each other.

Obviously, these categories break down at some point—especially because I’m operating from the Klassen Dictionary of Terms—but consider Jesus’ words in John 13:34.

He didn’t say, “Tolerate one another as I have tolerated you.”

He didn’t say, “Respect one another as I have respected you.”

What did he say? “Love one another as I have loved you.”

Love means both parties accept the other party regardless of behavior. Jesus loves the Chik-fil-A workers every bit as much as the advocates of gay marriage.

Actually, I think Jesus would have purchased a dozen Chik-fil-A meals on Thursday and shared them with a group of homeless people sitting under a bridge. Or, he would have befriended the protestors and probed their hearts.

But he wouldn’t have engaged in any debates because  debates rarely have winners and losers.

As we witnessed last Wednesday.

One note: The Daily Bible Conversation blog is shuttering its doors at the end of August…at least for now. The blog has run its course, so Michael, Eugene, and Brendan will direct their energies in other areas. More news of what’s next will appear in our remaining blogs.

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. He loves, loves, loves Chik-fil-A spicy chicken sandwiches.

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A Recovering @$$?&#€

“You’re an @$$?&#€,” my counselor calmly informed me.

“I am not an @$$?&#€,” I shot back.

“Yes. You are an @$$?&#€—and I’m an @$$?%#€, too.”

Believe it or not, it was one of the most formative moments in my life when I realized how messed up I really am.

And you are too.

There’s Actually An Upside To Being An @$$?%#€

Coming from a long line of believers can be a blessing and a curse. A blessing, because our Christian heritage means we have developed a culture that challenges and expects every person to follow Jesus. Living a remotely evil life is foreign to me.

It can also be a curse, because people like me can easily assume we’re automatically “in.” We also tend to insulate ourselves from the outside world around us. And, as much as I hate to admit it, we can easily become judgmental of people who struggle with sins that our Christian culture has deemed worse than others. To put it bluntly, we have a hard time admitting that we’re @$$?&#€s.

The apostle Paul addressed people like me in Romans chapter 2:

So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? (Verse 3)

I can imagine these words ruffled the feathers of quite a few of Paul’s readers. A sinner?? Me?? God’s judgment?

Paul even accuses his Christian readers of committing the same sins as the Gentiles. In the previous chapter (1:29-31), Paul names the sins of those wicked @$$?&#€s:

They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.

From a publishing standpoint, no editor would have let this appear in print because Paul has effectively alienated his readers.

Were Paul’s readers actually committing these acts? Based on Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:21-30, the answer is yes. According to Jesus, when you’re angry at someone, you’re guilty of murder. Ever lusted after someone? Then you’re guilty of adultery.

Paul reinforces this by reminding his readers that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

Being Good Isn’t Enough

But the gist of Paul’s point is this: Going to church isn’t enough. Reading the Neighborhood Café blog isn’t enough. Growing up in a Christian family isn’t enough. We simply can’t do enough to be saved from God’s wrath. We’re all @$$?&#€s. We may not commit heinous crimes, but we commit sins of the heart–sins like envy, murder, strife, gossip, arrogance…the list goes on and on.

How then can anyone be saved??

Paul answers the question later in Romans, but rather than point to the antidote, I encourage you to meditate on this reality. We can’t do enough to satisfy God’s wrath against sin. We cannot be good enough to save ourselves.

The psalmist in Psalm 10 offers us a window into resolving this dilemma:

You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry (Psalm 10:17).

God responds to the cry of the afflicted. When we see ourselves as we really are—people created in the image of God who have become infected and afflicted by sin—then we can begin our recovery.

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. His family fully knows that he’s an @$$?&#€.

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Your Shelter In The Storm

“Don’t worry,” I reassured my friend Sandi. “We don’t get tornadoes here in Denver.”

While in high school, my friend Sandi and I were hanging out in a nearby park on a spring afternoon when the clouds turned into a downpour. We jumped into my car, but when the rain turned to golfball-size hail, I knew we needed to find shelter. Driving through the neighborhood, I spotted a vacant garage-like awning adjacent to a house, so I drove underneath it while we waited for the storm to pass.

After the storm calmed down, I dropped off Sandi at her house and then drove home. To my astonishment, when I turned on the radio I discovered that a tornado had indeed hit Denver. In fact, it had followed a nearby freeway before skipping over us and then landing about a mile away where it continued it’s destructive path.

The awning sheltered my car from serious damage. But I also encountered another shelter during that experience…

What Made King David’s Shelter So Strong?

Although people point to him as Israel’s greatest king and a man after God’s heart, David was no stranger to adversity. We don’t know the context into which David wrote Psalm 7, but it’s obvious that his life was in danger.The psalm was likely written while he was on the run from Saul—because the title says the psalm is a response to Cush, a Benjamite, and we know Saul incited the Benjamites against David (see 1 Samuel 22:7).

Regardless, while in danger David begins the psalm by writing, “O Lord my God, I take refuge in you” (verse 1). A refuge is literally a shelter in a storm.

But how did David find refuge in God? I think it resembled my experience with the hailstorm. In the same way that I trusted the awning to protect my car, David trusted God to protect him. David still encountered opposition, but he trusted in God’s goodness and power to protect him.

In addition to that, David found a way to commune with God. Writing Psalm 7 was one way that David found refuge in God. He even wrote the psalm in the present tense: “I take refuge in you.” Not “I want to take refuge in you” or  “I remember that one time when I took refuge in you.” By journaling his thoughts, David  experienced the shelter of God’s love. Many of the psalms we read are journal entries of conversations (poetry!) between David and God.

Taking refuge in God involves placing our trust in God to protect and to provide, but it also includes ways for us to “take refuge in the shelter of [his] wings,” as David writes in Psalm 61:4. It means finding reassurance that can only come from being with him.

How do you find refuge in God?

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. Listening to the music of Jesus Culture helps him find refuge when he’s in distress. 

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Avoiding Shortcuts To Nowhere

Years ago, our family lived in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area. After spending most of my life in Denver, where the streets run north and south in straight lines, Philadelphia threw me for a loop. Literally.

Many of the roads in Philly date back hundreds of years. One of the main roads in an outlying town is called “Cowpath Road.” Obviously, the road was a converted cow path. Cows don’t walk in straight lines. This is just one of many examples of Philadelphia’s meandering roads.

So at times, when the traffic on the two-lane roads backed up, I tried taking side streets to get ahead. On more than one occasion, my “shortcut” brought me back to my starting point. I was literally driving in circles.

That’s often the case when we take shortcuts in our lives.

Shortcuts To God Will Lead You Nowhere

Growing up in the church, I’ve witnessed the good, the bad, and the ugly in church leadership. At various stages in my life as a pastor, I must admit that I’ve done my part in presenting a poor example of leadership as well. So please understand that I’m not casting stones.

Our human nature gravitates toward following charismatic individuals who speak to us on behalf of God. Often, this is the result of our laziness. Relying on someone who will “stand in” for God is like opting for the Cliff’s Notes version of a great novel. Rather than read the Bible for ourselves and seek an intimate relationship with God, we prefer that someone do it for us.

Moses, Israel’s first great leader, was concerned that after he died, they would follow false prophets who would lead them away from God. So Moses warned Israel, “It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere” (Deuteronomy 13:4).

When our walk with God is dependent upon the leaders we follow, we set ourselves up for tremendous disappointment and pain.

Pastors, TV preachers, televangelists, and authors all must be compared with the plumb line of Scripture. Just because they say something that sounds good, or they say something that we want to be true—doesn’t make it true! Many have led well-meaning believers astray. And history continues to repeat itself.

Not long ago, I witnessed a church split that affected thousands of people. Some of the people who were damaged by the fallout were devastated and vowed never again to return to church or trust a church leader. In my judgment, far too many of those people needlessly followed the Senior Pastor rather than God.

My friends, please join me in following Moses’ advice. Let’s follow God and avoid the unnecessary disappointment and pain that inevitably meets people who depend on fallible men and women for their walk with God.

Shortcuts in our walk with God lead us nowhere.

What shortcuts have you tried in your walk with God? Where did they lead you? If you were hurt from the experience, how did you recover? Have you recovered?

Why would God want us to avoid following people instead of him?

What does this tell you about God?

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott.

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The Symbols That Define Us

A 4 by 3 inch slice of wood sits on my desk. Fifteen years ago it served as the stump to a Christmas tree that stood in our living room.

That year, I was struck by the fact that my Christmas tree spent  10 years preparing itself to be the family tree for three weeks. In the same way, I realized, God may spend months, even years, preparing me for significant moments.

I keep the tree sample on my desk as a reminder. In many ways, that stump symbolizes  my values–the existence of God, the potentially redemptive nature of pain, the importance of preparing myself for significant moments.

Symbols Are All Around Us

We live in a world of symbols. Photos remind us of past events. Plaques, trophies, and medals take us back to earlier accomplishments. Tattoos on our bodies reveal untold stories. Perhaps you wear a cross to remind you of the steep price Jesus paid to save you from yourself. The symbols we choose to keep nearby say a great deal about our past and our values.

The importance of symbols cannot be understated. A life without them is a life devoid of meaning and memory.

When the children of Israel crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land, they gathered large stones from the bottom of the river and constructed a memorial on the river bank to remind them of the day God parted the waters to bring them home. The stones did more than tell a story—they taught the people about God.

The greatest memorial in the Christian faith is the Lord’s Supper, which reminds us not only of Jesus’ death, but also the forgiveness Jesus purchased for us, our hunger for him, and the importance of community (hence the word “communion”).

What do the symbols in your life communicate about you?

What symbols are missing?

What symbols shouldn’t be there?

As you revisit the memorials in your life, take a moment to listen. What might God be speaking to your heart?

If anything comes to mind, please share it with us!

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. His favorite symbol is a carved, wooden crucifix that hangs on a wall in front of his computer. 

 

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The Truth About Freedom

“I am William Wallace!” the legendary leader shouted to his Scottish brethren in the movie Braveheart. After resisting the repeated attacks of the tyrannical English King Edward the Longshanks, the men were ready to give up.

“And I see a whole army of my countrymen, here in defiance of tyranny. You’ve come to fight as free men…and free men you are. What will you do with that freedom? Will you fight?”

“Fight?” a wearied warrior countered. “Against that? No! We will run. And we will live.”

“Aye, fight and you may die,” their mythical leader replied. “Run, and you’ll live…at least a while.

“And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin’ to trade ALL the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take…OUR FREEDOM!”

Is Freedom Just Another Four Letter Word?

This Wednesday, Americans celebrate Independence Day, the day when our founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It’s a day we celebrate freedom from British rule. (Isn’t it ironic that today, the British are our closest allies?)

Freedom is a core value in the Western world. It’s also those most overused, misunderstood word in the English language.

Years ago, a chain of convenience stores posted the word “freedom” in big letters over their soft drink machines. They celebrated the “freedom” customers enjoyed in choosing from a half dozen different soft drinks.

For this William Wallace and the forefathers of countries around the world died? For this our founding American forefathers risked their lives?

Of course not. People in totalitarian countries assuredly enjoy the option of different soft drinks. But it begs the question: What is the purpose of freedom, and how can we attain it?

The True Purpose Of Freedom

“You, my brothers, were called to be free,” Paul wrote in Galatians 5:13, which sounds like something William Wallace would say.

Our freedoms allow us to make choices that people in previous generations didn’t enjoy. We can worship as we choose, marry whomever we choose, pursue any profession that we choose, and voice our dissatisfaction with our government without fear of retribution. But freedom can be a mixed blessing—just ask people from newly freed countries. Since winning their freedom, Russia has become thoroughly entrenched in corruption and overrun by the mafia.

Our freedoms allow us to surf porn, pick up sexually transmitted diseases, and gamble ourselves into bankruptcy and personal ruin. Extreme examples to be sure—but the possibility to live without restraints is definitely one of the pillars of freedom.

Paul though, continues his thought: “But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature.”

Then he compares the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit. Sexual immorality, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, appear on the list of vices (see Galatians 5:19-21).

Is freedom the right to indulge in any of these vices? Technically speaking, yes. But what if these “vices” are truly vices? If so, then they really represent bondage–the opposite of freedom.

The Deeper Freedom Is The Freedom To Be Who You Truly Are

Paul was a addressing a deeper freedom. Not a freedom to indulge these practices, but a from them. A freedom to be who we really are. A freedom to be the men and women God had in mind before he created the heavens and the earth.

You see, when we give our lives to Jesus, our sins are forgiven and we become a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). The deepest part of us is no longer us but Christ.

Take a look at the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These are all the character traits of Jesus. When he becomes the deepest part of us, they become the deepest part of us as well. But they need to be freed.

Previously, our sinful nature gravitated toward Paul’s list of vices. We couldn’t help ourselves. We may think we’re free, but we’re not. Yet Paul says that the Christian has been unchained. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free,” he wrote in verse 1.

If you have given your life to Jesus, the truest part of you is the fruit of the Spirit, and not the works of the flesh.

Believe it.

Please Join Me In A Conversation!

How does it feel to know that the truest part of you gravitates toward the fruit of the Spirit and not the works of the flesh?

What helps you believe it? What prevents you from believing it?

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. If you or somebody you know is struggling with bondage to a sexual addiction, he highly recommends a book he helped Michael John Cusick write. The newly-released book is entitled “Surfing For God.”

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