Tag Archives: hope

Just Another Easter

The Gallups in pastels for Easter

So that was fun.

I’m sure many of your found the courage to wear pastel colors that normally lie dormant in you closet the rest of the year yesterday. Perhaps you got together with family members you would never spend time with unless you had to. You may have eaten a few too many peeps than the recommended serving size. But even if you did none of these, chances are you went to church. Even if yesterday was the only day of the year that you do.

I’m normally a rather sentimental fellow. I cried when I watched Charlotte’s Web; and when I say cried, I mean I sobbed and snot poured out of ny nose and I didn’t care because I was so enraptured in the beauty of the moment. Yeh, I’m one of those. So usually every year around the beginning of Spring, I find myself knee-deep in snot and tears as I become overwhelmed by sheer beauty of the Easter story.

The whole thing is beautiful even if it isn’t personal, but it is. In no way am I worthy of such beauty, such grace, such love, such life. Yet the story of Easter is just about that, the meeting of our complete unworthiness with God’s complete welcome. When the weight of my folly intersects with the glory of God’s love, tears are paltry offerings to express the beauty of redemption.

But this year my eyes stayed dry. I wore my pastel pants, ate candy, went to church, sang about joy, and went to lunch like nothing different happened. I had to ask myself why.

Maybe because like our linen pants and pink ties, we rummage through the closet to find this thing called to Resurrection and pull it out for one day to show it off only to have it stored away till next year. The Resurrection is the climax of the gospel, the story of Jesus. Without it, we have no hope, we have no faith, we have no life. It completes the work of the cross and ushers in a New Creation that is bursting forth light where darkness once reigned. It is at the very center of our faith as Christians, yet for many of us it has already become an afterthought today.

The reality of the Resurrection is that it is not just an event that happened but it is always happening, especially right now. Our hope is that we too participate in the Resurrection through our faith and obedience in Christ. The intersection of our depravity and God’s love is our daily reality. Yet when we think that one day a year is good enough, we are in effect denying the Resurrection.

When we regulate the power of God to some children’s story that only matters peripherally at best, we deny that the tomb is empty. We deny that Jesus truly reigns in our hearts and in our world. This year I saw a spectacle of false joy. I was immersed in a group of people who had traded the truth of Easter for a lie. Because really nothing changed. We put on fake smile to match our shoes and tread upon the gravity of this story.

I may seem a little heavy-handed but I felt the weight of our hypocrisy most clearly yesterday. Instead of shedding tears of joy, I shed tears of sorrow. As my brothers and sisters gave lip service to “He is risen indeed” I wanted to shake them and plead, “do you really believe this?” Because if we did…..I’m not really sure what would happen if we really did.

But here is the power of Easter. The sins of our ignorance, the depravity of our hypocrisy is not met with God’s scorn but with his grace.

If the Resurrection is real then I can hope and rejoice that the life that seemed so distant in the very hearts it was professed to belong to, can (and I believe will) find its home there once again, perhaps even for the first time. The implication of Easter is that we can again cry tears of joy in the face of our hypocrisy because Jesus laid death in its grave.

I did not cry yesterday because I was also part of the denying crowd.

Because my vision was filled solely with our collective hypocrisy, I missed the intersection of grace altogether. I saw our depravity as victorious and that is the very lie the Resurrection destroys. Jesus overcame the grave so that Love can truly win.

Do I really believe this? Because if I did…..

Michael is the Pastor of the Church at Argenta. 

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An Epitaph to a White 2001 Nissan Pathfinder

By Eugene C. Scott

Unlike some people I know, I’ve never named one of my cars. You know what I’m talking about. My wife’s family named a couple of theirs: an old gray truck they called the Gray Ghost and an 80 something Olds they called the GLC, Good Little Car, which it wasn’t really, either good or little.

To me cars have always been something to get you from point A to point B. Don’t get me wrong. I like and know the value of a nice vehicle. I’ve owned too many jalopies, especially in high school. I am intimately acquainted with tow ropes and jumper cables. No, automobiles were mere tools. You do not name tools.

So, I was surprised this last Monday when my mechanic Dean told me my eleven year old, 267,000 mile white Nissan Pathfinder’s transmission problem was “catastrophic.” (See my last post, “Life is Funny”)

Surprised for two reasons: first, this was the only time EVER in all those miles and years the Pathfinder had a serious mechanical problem. One day it was running as strong as ever and the next day it dies of the equivalent of a sudden heart attack.

Second, I was surprised by my emotional reaction to the news. I became depressed, mopey. And then I felt stupid for feeling depressed about a vehicle, one I hadn’t even named. But as I’ve thought it over maybe it’s not that silly to be depressed about my Pathfinder’s unexpected death.

After all, I had dreamed of owning a four-wheel drive since I was a skinny kid in high school. And besides being a 4×4, it was the nicest car I had ever owned. It had power windows and locks and an eight speaker Bose sound system that flat-out rocked. I loved coming down the hiking trail and seeing how far away the keyless entry button would work.

But the Pathfinder was more than a nice vehicle.

We bought the Pathfinder in February 2001 in Tulsa. A month later I loaded it with our dog Anastasia, my mountain bike, and all my clothes and drove it to my new pastoral position in Vail. The family would come later. The Pathfinder took me home to Colorado, after twelve years of yearning.

The family joined me in June and as soon as possible we loaded the Pathfinder up and went four wheeling, windows open, tires tossing rocks and logs, radio off, everyone talking about the wonder of God’s creation.

I see now we used it not just to get from point A to point B but to stay connected. We drove back to Tulsa to see our friends we had left there. And when my mom’s health declined dangerously, the Pathfinder flew up and down I70 to Denver and back racking up thousands of miles.

On one of those trips back up the mountain Emmy, youngest daughter, and I discussed the meaning of lyrics and poetry. I discovered a depth in her that day.

Finally, I wept all the way home–gripping the steering wheel, radio off again–after my mom passed.

Inside its four doors we connected with each other as well. My son Brendan and I drove together back to Tulsa for his freshman year at Tulsa University. We listened to Van Morrison and talked about literature and hunting and the future. Those 950 miles flashed by.

After my oldest daughter Katie was married in 2003, she and her husband Michael came to visit and we packed mountain bikes on the Pathfinder looking for new trails. On those rides we began to establish a new trail for our relationship too. A very good and deep one.

When my mom was healthier, we all drove to Denver and picked her up to spend Christmas with us in the mountains. She sat in the back with Emmy and sang Christmas songs along with a Jaci Velasquez CD. That’s one of my best memories of her last years of life.

My wife Dee Dee relished loading our snow shoes in the back of the Pathfinder and heading out for a wilderness trek. Those were our most treasured dates filled with laughing, praying, and wonder.

And then there are the hunting and camping trips; my time alone in its cab listening to Darrel Evans, Waterdeep, or Mars Hill Audio Journal. God spoke to me in that car.

Now I know I am sad at the demise of the Pathfinder not because I am materialistic (though on other grounds I can assure you I am). It’s just that in 270,000 miles you compile some meaningful memories. The Pathfinder was just a tool. It is what we used to get here and there. But–oh–the richness of the journey and–oh–the places it took us.

If I had named the Pathfinder, maybe Faithful or White Knight would have fit. But no, that would just be corny.

Eugene C. Scott is in need of another cool car and is co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.

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Surprised by Joy: Some Glad Morning

by Michael Gallup

Perhaps the hardest question have I asked God in all of this is “when?” Sure, I have suffered some and God has began to speak healing into those situations, but it has never felt even partially complete. With every victory I have encountered, the moments of joy were merely fleeting. If joy was a product of suffering, then why am I still depressed, why do those in far worst situations than me find themselves still burdened by troubles? If we are to find joy in the victory over our struggles, when is that day coming?

Of course, Jesus has something to say about all this. As he too is preparing to face his great moment of suffering but also victory in the cross, he begins to instruct and inspire his followers. He tells them a story about a woman giving birth. He tells of her great pain because the sufferings of her pregnancy have come to a head. But the pain is not only relieved in the birth of a child, it is erased because of the joy of a new life. Jesus then looks at his friends and declares, “So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.”

Jesus makes two promises here, that we WILL suffer in this life, but also that a new age is coming in which Jesus himself will hand us his pure, unfiltered joy and it will NEVER be taken away. This is a passage that we can hope in. Our moments of joy now are fleeting because the ultimate victory is not complete. Our labor has not reached its final climax and so we struggle and suffer but we also wait and hope because the day is coming and coming soon. The labor pains may be increasing but so is the expectancy that new life is coming too.

Jesus later personalizes what this day will be like. He gives his friend John a vision of that day of birth, of new life. Jesus’ vision of victory is not just of a conquering king but also of a compassionate one. John sees something that we can hardly imagine, he says that in that day God himself wipes away every tear from our eyes. I really believe this is no metaphor but a reality. God will kneel down beside us and not only wipe away the tears we shed on our darkest days but will wipe away his own tears he shed on those days. And when we peer deeply into his infinite eyes we will know a healing that is complete and a joy that is complete and a love that is perfectly complete.

There may be little hope for this kind of joy, healing, or even love right now. But we do get tastes from time to time, foreshadowing the joy that is coming. Last week I wrote how sports champions experience such highs because they suffered so much to achieve their great victory. I believe that the greater the suffering the greater the joy. And that has given me the most hope. As I see those that have suffered more than I can ever imagine and my heart aches for them, I have a hope that one day, in the victory of new life, my greatest joy we be to see them truly alive. To see the cripple leap for joy and the starved filled to the brim with the greatest meal ever. And all I will want to do is watch and in that simple act my joy we be complete.

I still have little clue how all this works but I am gaining faith that is DOES work. The day is coming when my faith will no longer be needed because I will see and know and on that day Jesus will give me his joy and nothing will ever take it away.

Michael is a recovering addict of various shades. He awaits the glad morning while studying to be a pastor at Denver Seminary. You can read his blog, A Sprig of Hope, by clicking here.

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Harry Potter and the Church Part I

By Eugene C. Scott


Like J. K. Rowling’s wonderfully weird invention of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Jelly Beans, her Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and God’s equally wonderful and weird church are both humanity flavored hope. Sometimes they’re sweet and sometimes disgusting.

The truth is Rowling gave Hogwarts the same humanity flawed quirkiness that God created the church to reflect.

In chapter six of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” a confused but expectant Harry Potter stands on platform nine and three quarters waiting for the Hogwarts Express–a magical train that will take him–for the first time–to Hogwarts, where he will be schooled in magic. Once there, Harry’s life changes dramatically.

In this magical castle filled with moving staircases, strange rooms, stranger people, talking portraits, and ghosts, Harry, among other things, will cement life-long friendships with Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley while discovering that even the best witchcraft and wizardry school is full of quirks and imperfections and–more-so–quirky and imperfect people.

As I have enjoyed J. K. Rowling’s classic stories as pure fun reading, I also have been challenged by some of her deeper themes. Did she, for instance, intend to draw parallels between the mythical castle called Hogwarts and God’s mysterious community called the church?

Intentional or not, the parallels are there.

Relationships Define the Church and Hogwarts

Contrary to popular belief, the church is not a building nor an institution. It is a community. Yes, most often the church meets in a building and–unfortunately–becomes far too institutional. Hogwarts too is a particular place and has rules–most of which Harry breaks. But this is not what defines Hogwarts.

At Hogwarts, Harry, the orphan, finds his family. Through his friendship with Ron Weasley at Hogwarts, Harry is unofficially adopted into the Weasley clan. It is at Hogwarts also that Harry meets his godfather, Sirius Black and is mentored by a father figure, Albus Dumbledore.

Like Hogwarts, the church, first and foremost, is a community. A family thrown together in a myriad of relationships. Orphans all adopted by Christ.

I grew up in what is commonly called a dysfunctional family. We weren’t completely dysfunctional, however. We did two things very well: fight and meddle in each other’s business. What we did not manage was to foster intimacy. We loved each other to the best of our ability. Still my family was a lonely, chaotic place.

Then I became a follower of Christ and was adopted into this quirky, imperfect family called the church. Like Harry, it was in this completely foreign and unexpected place that I discovered true family. I am who I am because of God speaking and working through the family members I have met in various churches. I have served in six churches over the last 32 years. In each one God has introduced me to people who have become life-long friends. We have, as the great theologian and poet Paul said, “carried one another’s burdens.” We have cried, laughed, fought, feasted (a lot), and lived life together. Rowling was brilliant in drawing Harry as a hero who needed friends to accomplish his mission. And Hogwarts as the place those relationships formed and thrived.

This too is us.

The Church and Hogwarts Are a Mix of Angels and Demons

Much to Harry’s dismay, however, Hogwarts is far from perfect. It is there, under the Sorting Hat, that he discovers his own dark side. It tells Harry, “You could be great, you know, and Slytherin will help you on the way to greatness, no doubt about that.” But Ron warns him, “There’s not a single witch or wizard who went bad who wasn’t in Slytherin.” Should Harry join the darker, more prone to evil House of Slytherin, or the more benign House of Gryffindor? Each of us, whether follower of Christ or no, face the same choices.

No wonder so many wars and wonders have been wrought in the name of God. 

In Hogwarts Harry battles his nearest enemy, Draco Malfoy. Hogwarts, like the church, contains not just angels but demons (so to speak). In the church I’ve been and met both. Like Harry, all of us who have spent more than 10 minutes in the church carry and have inflicted wounds.

Rowling invents a fictional school that rings true because it is such a real mix of sinner and saint. Just like the church.

If Harry imagined Hogwarts as utopia, he was sorely disappointed. This may be why so many of us give up on the church. We are drawn to its divinity but are driven away by its humanity. Our unrealistic expectations are as much a part of our disappointment as are the actual flaws thriving in the church. I plummet emotionally each time the church–or more correctly people, including myself, of the church–don’t live up to my lofty ideals.

Though I understand well the pain that the church can inflict (from personal experience as well as theoretically), the load that weighs heaviest on my pastor’s soul is trying to convince people that the church is both more and less than they ever imagined. More in that it is about being human and being in relationships while also being in relationship with God.  Less in that it is about being flawed humans who need each other.

And in that way the church reflects humanity and human community perfectly. Harry could have never become who he was born to be without Hogwarts and all the pain, joy, disappointment and triumph mixed together in one.

Imagine had Harry, as do so many people today in regards to church, refused to board that mysterious train bound for Hogwarts, one of the best stories written in modern times would have never come into being. So too, when any of us refuses to join that infuriating, dangerous, glorious, Christ-community God calls the church. What real story might you be missing?

Eugene C Scott is co-pastor of one of those wonderfully weird places called The Neighborhood Church.

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What If “The Hunger Games” Were True? A Book Review

By Eugene C. Scott

What if?

“What if” is frequently the central question submerged in good fiction. C.S. Lewis asked, what if a Christ figure came into a completely different world from the one we know? In answer to his question, Lewis invented Aslan the Lion and Narnia. J.K. Rowling seemed to ask what if there were an invisible, magical world existing alongside ours and in that world of wonderful, powerful magic, love was the most powerful force of all? Hogwarts and Harry Potter sprang to life.

Suzanne Collins, author of the New York Times best sellers, The Hunger Games Trilogy, asked an age-old science-fiction question: what if the world as we know it was destroyed, leaving only a remnant of human life.

Collins’ trilogy tells the sad, violent story of Katniss Everdeen, a 16 year-old girl living in the dystopian world of Panem–all that is left of the United States after a nuclear war–with her emotionally broken mother and her 12 year-old sister, Prim. Panem is divided into 12 districts ruled from the Capitol by a malignant government. The outlying districts function as slave labor. The ultimate tyranny of the Capitol is that once a year two children, ages 12-18, are chosen from each district to compete to the death in The Hunger Games. The chosen children must murder each other with only one walking out scarred but alive.

Collins is a good writer and an even better story-teller; her best talent being pacing. Her prose is nearly invisible and sparse, which fits the story. But the books do contain literary elements. Collins lays in many bigger themes worth mining for, if one chooses to do so.

Katniss is as conflicted and as complicated as this type of story can bear. Her complacency with and repulsion to the evil in her world is realistic. Her search for love and for her purpose is obvious but well told.

Also to Collins‘ credit, the high level of violence fits the story, if not the YA label the book carries. Like Rowling, she is not afraid to kill off several main characters.

These books deserve the stir they have caused and are not only worth reading but are worth discussing.

Especially meriting conversation is one “what if” Collins may not have placed in the books intentionally.

What if God did not exist? Nowhere in the three books is there any hint of a belief in a higher power. It’s as if religion were the main target of the bombs. No character uses spiritual language, even in non-technical, slang ways. When one character close to Katniss dies, Katniss almost pictures an after life, but not quite. No one cries out against God for the evil God is allowing nor does anyone cry out to God for help. Rather a song Katniss’ father taught her, that she remembers in her toughest times, seems to reflect a belief that in the world of Panem, this difficult, unpredictable, unfair, unjust world is all we get.

Near the end of the last book, one character comforts Katniss by telling her humans may yet evolve away from senseless evil and into love. Maybe, maybe not.

This is not a criticism of Collins or the books. The books do contain humor, love, and insight. And Collins may have built her dystopian world this way on purpose. There are two books of the Bible where God is never mentioned. God’s absence there is as powerful of a message as being there. Sometimes a need is best pointed out by its absence.

What would the world look like without God? Unfortunately, because of our refusal to grab God’s outstretched hand, there is violence and ugliness worse than in The Hunger Games. The difference being that without God there is no real reason to believe we can learn and change. Evolution promises no such advances.

Fortunately, God’s presence gives real hope and tangible help. Looking at history the only cultures to seriously slow the march of evil have been those directly impacted by the intervention of God and the Incarnation of Christ. And even those cultures have been flawed. Imagine where we could be without Christ coming? Unintentionally or intentionally The Hunger Games imagines that world.

For my part, this is what I liked about these stories. They left me with questions.

Too much story-telling in the Christian world seems afraid to let God narrate to the reader out of the story and therefore, the human narrator provides pat answers and unrealistic solutions. I believe God can and does speak even through stories that contain no overt mention of God.

It could also be true that Collins may actually believe there is no such Person as God. Thus a fictional world that contains only the slightest thread of human hope may actually exist for her and for many others. I don’t know. Our continual propensity toward evil makes such a belief more plausible.

This, along with a story well told, is what brought tears to my eyes at the end of The Hunger Games Trilogy. I was crying for Katniss as an archetype of the modern person.

Eugene C. Scott is co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church

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Surprised by Joy

One night this past summer, much like most nights, I laid in bed and instead of sleep, I found emptiness to be my embrace. As I stared at the popcorn texture on the ceiling of my bedroom, I wondered how I ever ended up in this place. I didn’t mean my apartment but in the state of emptiness that I now felt consumed by.

Michala, Mary Grace, and I had recently visited my childhood home of Pawleys Island, SC. While we stuffed ourselves on ribs and boiled peanuts, our sense of awe was also filled with the breath-taking beauty of the South Carolina lowcountry. Some folks think us South Carolinians are arrogant (and they are probably right) but it is hard not to have a pride of life living in a place with such a sense of mystique.

Located a few miles north of Pawleys is an old plantation that has been reinvented as an enormous sculpture garden called Brookgreen Gardens. Leaving Mary Grace with her Papa Johnny, Michala and I set out to continue our gluttonous consumption of beauty, and we were not disappointed. Brookgreen is larger than life, spanning 9,000 acres and several miles of coast upon the Waccamaw River. Michala and I forgot about the 90 plus degree weather coupled with an almost surreal level of humidity as we walked beneath the limbs of 300 year-old, moss draped live oak trees. We felt like kids again in this wonderful place, as if we had walked through a wardrobe to get to this Narnia.

Yet the one thing that most struck me, seared my soul even, was the sculpture entitled “Frog Baby” (pictured above, click to enlarge). In this artist’s depiction of young boy’s reaction after he has snared two frogs, the frog baby gazes heavenward with a smile that leaves the viewer both inwardly renewed and yet haunted to the core. Most of the people in our group produced similar outward reaction, that of laughter mixed with a hint of scoff. Yet the boy’s face has not failed to leave me alone in the time since we met. In fact it is more of a haunting than anything, the way it stays with me.

I have been left to ponder why would this expression of sheer joy would be so haunting.

I saw that same face again later upon my daughter. As we were preparing for church one morning, I took it upon my self to dance with Mary Grace. I dipped and dunked as she held on to me, curious as to what brought on such silliness and then I spun her around. At first her face only knew shock, but that was quickly wiped away by joy, leaving me looking into the smile of the frog baby.

The feeling I felt at that moment can best be described as mourning. I saw a ghost of myself reflected in her pure joy. That afternoon, I weaped, thankful for my daughter’s innocence but also despairing the death of my childhood. After choosing to follow Jesus just over 5 years prior, I was told that one of the core markings of His followers would be joy, and yet not only did joy seem like a distant memory, I feared I would never again taste its sweetness.

Not content to accept my joyless fate, I began to ask myself and God some hard questions. What is Joy? Where does Joy come from? How can I be happy in the midst of so much suffering in the world? Will I ever feel Joy again? And to my surprise, I began to find answers and even a bit of joy as well. The next four Mondays, I will be exploring the questions I asked and the answers I found. Join me in asking the hard questions for which only silence in the presence of God can bring relief. Join me in the joy of discovering ourselves surprised at just how good the answers and our God can be.

Michael is a student at Denver Seminary. His wife Michala, is the Director of Children’s Ministry at The Neighborhood Church.

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Can Life’s Problems Be Solved by Slogans?

By Eugene C. Scott

We are enamored with slogans. If it can’t be said in three to seven words, seems it ain’t worth saying. Take for example the saying, “Everything happens for a reason.” This saying is usually uttered during some disappointing or tragic event. But what does it mean? Are hard things easier if they have a reason?

Similar is “If God closes a door, God usually opens a window.” When I hear that phrase, I always check to see if I’m on the ground floor. Both phrases are rather deterministic, a kind of shrug of the shoulders at fate or God, whichever you happen to believe is master of the cosmos. It’s not as if either saying can change anything.

Another slogan that leaves me wanting is “Leave No Trace.” I understand the sentiment. I do! I am a conservationist. What the sloganeers are trying to communicate in a pithy, memorable way is not to pick flora, kill fauna, autograph trees, dig holes, throw rocks, toss trash, trash talk, cause erosion, burn down forests, start avalanches, or produce global warming while on an afternoon hike. These are good things not to do.

And placing all of the necessary restrictions on one sign would be ridiculous, unless you live in Boulder, CO where the above sentence qualifies as a slogan. But three words simply cannot adequately sum up the importance of good stewardship of our world, especially in the wild. Reducing the concept of conservation to a slogan may actually diminish the message. Another problem with the “Leave No Trace” slogan is it is impossible. Simply observing something may actually leave a trace.

The reality is, try as we might, life’s complexities can’t be summed up in a sound bite. And the more often we try to jam the mysteries of life into small spaces the more often we lose the gist of the problem we’re trying to capsulize and possibly the gist of life itself. When slogans don’t solve anything, people may simply despair trying.

For that matter the two phrases “Leave No Trace” and “Everything Happens for a Reason” contradict one another. Genetically and theologically we are built to leave a trace. Humans are consumed with finding a purpose in positive and negative events and also with leaving our mark on the world. Life would truly be meaningless if each of us left no trace.

Besides no saying can save the planet. Worse yet an easy slogan may even let us off hook for the hard, complicated, and sometimes, contradictory work God has for us in being stewards of this great planet. Further no slogan can explain the death of a child or onset of a disease. Nor can it deflect the pain.

What if what God has for us is not escaping from trouble through a small window but living in a world without doors or windows or walls that leaves us vulnerable to God’s very presence, completely understood or not? Biblical sufferer Job could have summed up his suffering by saying, “stuff happens.” Instead Job asked God hard questions and waited for even harder answers.

Neither of which could be reduced to a slogan.

Condensed life, like condensed milk, needs something added in order to make it palatable. In a culture where fast food is the norm we also want fast answers. But fast doesn’t always equal good. Life, with its recipe of trouble and triumph mixed with pain and promise, is too rich to be reduced to a slogan. In the end bumper sticker theology or philosophy fail us. God especially can’t be summed up in a slogan.

God told Isaiah, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” At no time is the truth of that claim more obvious than when we are being insulted by the latest catch phrase or slogan reducing life’s mystery and problems to its least common denominator much less minimizing God’s grand creation to a sound bite.

Eugene is co-pastor of  The Neighborhood Church.

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