Monthly Archives: February 2010

Let’s Get This Party Started!

All too often, people who aren’t followers of Jesus equate the church with this hilarious scene from The Princess Bride. Unfortunately, we’ve done a good job of reinforcing the stereotype.


After living in our home for a couple of years, our oldest daughter became friends with another girl in the neighborhood. When Anna told the girl where we lived, the girl replied, “Oh, you live in the party house.”

In the five years we’ve lived in our home, hundreds of people have joined us for various parties. Not potlucks. Parties. It helps that my wife easily takes on the role of being “the life.”

No one has ever called the police to shut everything down, but we do know how to have a good time.

When asked why we have so many parties, I respond, “We’re just trying to be biblical.”

Please join me as we delve a little deeper into today’s topic!


Leviticus 22:17-23:44
Mark 9:30-10:12
Psalm 44:1-8
Proverbs 10:19


Leviticus 22:17-33. Reading this section about God’s command to give him the best of the people’s flocks, rather than the leftovers, causes me to ask myself, Do I give God my best—or my leftovers?

But this also brings me back to Jesus, the only true, unblemished sacrifice. His once-for-all sacrifice enables us to experience an intimate relationship with God despite our blemishes and uncleanness.

Leviticus 23. Sacred assemblies were national gatherings of public, corporate worship (verse 3).

Since this chapter lists the religious festivals in the Hebrew calendar, I’ll give you a quick summary of their significance:

Passover commemorated Israel’s departure from Egypt, prompted by the last plague when the death angel “passed over” the houses of the Israelites, but killed the firstborn Egyptian males of every family and flock.

The Feast of Unleavened Bread marked the beginning of the barley harvest (March-April). Unleavened bread was made from the newly harvested grain without adding yeast and was celebrated as the first sign of coming harvests that year.

During this harvest festival, the people brought the Firstfruits of their harvest to the priest who then waved the sheaf of grain before the God to draw his attention to the sacrifice. This was an acknowledgement that their harvest came from God and belonged to him.

The Feast of Weeks, also known as Pentecost, was celebrated seven weeks after the beginning of harvest. The significance of the harvest and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost in Acts 2 is inescapable and exciting to explore.

The Feast of Trumpets commemorated the covenant between God and his people. It lasted ten days and concluded with the Day of Atonement, which observed God’s forgiveness of Israel. For good reason, it later became the Jewish New year.

The Feast of Tabernacles coincided with the final harvest in the Fall, just prior to the rainy season. The festival reminded the people of the forty years that they wandered in the wilderness. To take them back in time, they lived in booths during the seven day celebration.

Mark 9:33-37. Children in Jesus’ day had no rights. They were powerless, needy, and reliant on their parents. Jesus said that when we love people who will never be able to repay us—like little children—we’re really loving him.

Mark 9:42-50. This is a really challenging passage. In it, Jesus tells us to remove anything that might cause us to sin. While we can’t remove every temptation–for example, I can’t control the sales ads in the paper (if I’m a shopoholic)–I know I can do better at eliminating unhealthy influences.

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Christians aren’t known for having a good time. In fact, the most fun some churches allow comes in a covered dish with tater tots on top.

But take a close look at the list of required festivals in Leviticus 23.  What does it tell us about God?

He likes to party. From my initial count, God required his chosen people to take the day off and celebrate a minimum of 31 days a year!

And God was just getting started.

Just look at Jesus. He performed his first miracle by turning water into wine at a wedding so the fun could continue. He was also known for hanging out with a pretty rough crowd at times (Mark 2:15). Undoubtedly, they were much more fun to hang out with than the Pharisees. In fact, Jesus said this about himself: “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.” ’ But wisdom is proved right by her actions” (Matthew 11:19).

Jesus surely wasn’t accused of being a drunkard for going to bed early on a Saturday night.

The early church followed Jesus’ example by regularly hosting love feasts. Rather than distribute a small paper-like wafer and a little cuplet of grape juice to partake of the body and blood of Jesus, the early believers held a community-wide meal.

All too often, it seems like the church is so concerned about not having too much fun that we guarantee we won’t have enough.

But this simply goes against solid biblical principles.

Of course, I’m not advocating wild drunkenness and carousing—God still wants us to live holy lives. But somewhere along the way, I think the church has forgotten how to have a good time.

We of all people, have something (and someone) to celebrate.


  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. Do you agree that Christians aren’t known for having a good time? Why or why not?
  3. Why would God command his people to celebrate? Do you celebrate to the extent that God commands it? Why or why not?
  4. If you followed Jesus’ command to remove anything that causes you to sin, what would you need to eliminate?

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

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The Secret To Jesus’ Power

The Resident Advisor responsible for my freshman wing in college was an ordained minister with the Church of God in Christ, a predominantly African-American Protestant denomination. Our weekly hall meetings were a unique amalgamation of announcements and church—African-American style.

Terry Rhone challenged us in our commitment to Christ and demonstrated what a follower of Christ looked like. But one night, he left us with an adage that I will never forget. As you read the following lines, imagine as if you were sitting in an African-American church, with the minister standing at the pulpit, dressed in a minister’s robe, wiping his brow and the people fanning themselves around you. Here’s what he says:

Much prayer…much power.

Little prayer…little power.

No prayer…no power.

Scripture offers no sure-fire formulas, but this comes as close to any formula I know of.

Please join me as we explore this further.


Leviticus 20:22-22:16
Mark 9:1-29
Psalm 43:1-5
Proverbs 10:18


Leviticus 20:22-27. Verse 23 says, “You must not live according to the customs of the nations I am going to drive out before you.” Granted, we can’t remove ourselves from our culture—but what if we lived in such a way that we deliberately chose which customs from our culture to adopt? One of the underlying themes of Leviticus is God’s command to live distinctively and differently than the surrounding culture.

Leviticus 21:1-22:16. Priests were required to work diligently to prevent being exposed to anything that would make them unclean. Imagine not being able to spend any time with a blind brother or a crippled neighbor or paying your respects to a deceased parent. That was the life of a priest.

We’ll likely get into this at a later time, but when Jesus died on the cross and the curtain in the Holy of Holies was ripped in two, not only did all of us become priests—but Jesus became our eternal high priest. He absorbed and disinfected our impurities, uncleanness, and sin. Neither pastor nor everyday follower of Jesus must live like the priests of old. God still calls us to holiness, but following Jesus’ example, we can walk alongside people in their brokenness and uncleanness.

Mark 9:1-13. Again, Mark highlights the shortcomings of the disciples. In verse 6 he gives us a window into what Peter was feeling at the transfiguration: “He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.” How would Mark, who wasn’t even a witness to Jesus or the transfiguration, know this? Legend tells us that his gospel is based on Peter’s account of Jesus’ ministry. In other words, Peter told Mark what he was feeling.

Psalm 43. This psalm and Psalm 42 look very similar, and in many ancient Hebrew manuscripts, they appear as one psalm. Verse 5 is a great verse to meditate on when you’re feeling discouraged: “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

Proverbs 10:18. This is an interesting proverb. Hiding your hatred makes you a liar. This goes against conventional thinking—even today—which says, “Keep your feelings to yourself.” Yet, verse 19 says, “He who holds his tongue is wise.” Hiding your hatred and holding your tongue are two different things. When we hide our hatred, we deny to people around us what we’re feeling inside. Eventually, that hatred comes out one way or the other, either through passive aggression, aggression, or a outright eruption. Holding your tongue means keeping your words in check. This means to choose your words carefully.

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As much as many of us avoid it…

As much as many of us talk about it but never do it…

As much as many of us talk about it, don’t do it, and convince ourselves that we are doing it…

…prayer takes no shortcuts.

The disciples and teachers of the law were arguing over a poor, helpless boy who was “possessed by a spirit.” The term “possessed by a spirit” or “demon-possessed” is a terribly unfair and incorrect translation. A much better translation of this word is “demonized.” A demonized person may be harassed from the outside or from within.

The boy’s symptoms looked like epilepsy, but somehow, some way, there was a degree of demonic harassment.

Up to this point, we’ve read in the gospel of Mark that Jesus sent his disciples in his authority. In fact, Mark 3:15 tells us that Jesus gave them “authority to drive out demons.”

Yet they couldn’t drive out this particular demon. In fact, my hunch is that the disciples’ powerlessness was the subject of their argument with the teachers of the law.

And then with one fell swoop, Jesus delivered the boy from the demon.

Later, the disciples pulled Jesus aside and asked him, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

“This kind can come out only by prayer,” he replied. Think back through our readings in Matthew and Mark. On a regular basis Jesus excused himself from his ministry to spend quality time with his heavenly Father.

If you’re like me, we don’t start praying fervently until we need God’s intervention. And then when we pray, we start with something like, “God, I know I should have been praying earlier…but I really need your help.”

But what if we prayed fervently before we needed God to act on our behalf?

Our lives would be different—and I think we’d look and act a lot more like Jesus.


  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. What customs from your culture have you deliberately chosen not to adopt? Why did you make this decision?
  3. How can followers of Jesus live deliberately and distinctly different in our culture?
  4. What prevents you from praying? What helps motivate you to pray?

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

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More Controversial Than The Health Care Debate

How would you respond if the head of your country handed down the following edict?

From this day forward, all the poor and homeless in this country are free to help themselves to the following:

  • All clearance or reduced price items in retail stores
  • All day-old baked goods in retail bakeries
  • The free use of any vacant buildings or homes
  • All medication in pharmacies that have reached their expiration date
  • Every automobile on new and used car lots that hasn’t sold within 90 days

“It’s an outrage!” some would protest. “This is nothing short of socialism and the end of capitalism. A violation of my rights!”

For centuries, politicians have engaged in an ongoing debate concerning governmental interference. “Charity must not be mandated upon the individual,” some protest. “The defense and care of the poor and destitute is the responsibility of the government,” others defend.

Today’s reading throws a wrench into this debate. Please join me…and duck!


Leviticus 19:1-20:21
Mark 8:11-38
Psalm 42:1-11
Proverbs 10:17


Leviticus 19. Each of the Ten Commandments are represented in some form in this rich chapter.

Most fertility cults at that time dictated that harvesters leave the edges of the field as an offering to their god. For Israel, however, the gleanings were given to the poor (verse 9) as part of their welfare system.

Verse 19 offers a somewhat strange command prohibiting the mixing or mating of different kinds of materials or animals. The reasoning behind the materials is that certain mixtures were reserved for sacred use. For example, the mixture of wool and linen was used in the tabernacle and in the high priest’s outer garments. In Hittite culture, sowing two types of seed in your field was punishable by death. Regarding mating different animals, the Word Biblical Commentary explains, “This law seeks to prevent the blurring of the variety of species and kinds that God created; that is, it seeks to preserve the diversity in the created world.”

Verse 23 forbids eating the fruit of a fruit tree within the first three years of being planted. Fruit trees were extremely valuable in ancient culture, so proper cultivation of the tree ensured future harvests. Interestingly enough, the word translated “forbidden” means literally, “uncircumcised.”

The Bible Background Commentary explains the reasoning behind the command that prohibits cutting the hair on the side of men’s head or clipping the edge of  their beard (in verse 27): “The law’s placement here immediately after the prohibition against divination suggests that the restriction on cutting the hair is based on the Canaanite practice of making an offering of hair to propitiate the spirits of the dead (see Deuteronomy 14:1).”

Verse 28 prohibits getting a tattoo. Tattoos and body painting were used to protect people from the spirits of the dead.

Leviticus 20. The penalties for this list of sexual offenses may seem severe, but scholars believe they served as the maximum punishment and that offenders may have received lesser penalties.

The command not to give your children to Molech in verses 1-5 is a reference to child sacrifice.

In verse 9, the command not to curse your parents literally means to treat with contempt.

Mark 8:14-21. As is common throughout his gospel, Mark shows that the disciples were about as clued out about Jesus as everyone else.

Psalm 42. We read at the beginning of the psalm that it was written by the sons of Korah—who happened to be a family of musicians.

Proverbs 10:17. “He who heeds discipline shows the way to life.” The word “discipline” can also be translated “correction” or “chasten.” So, here’s the Klassen translation of this verse: “Whoever accepts criticism finds life.” As I think about this, it seems to me that children take criticism much better than adults. For the most part, children know that they know not. Adults, on the other hand, know not that they know not.

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“They’re not my responsibility.”

“I’m not my brother’s keeper.”

By nature, mercy barely registers on my spiritual gifts list. And, as my wife would attest, I tend to be cheap in the way I prefer to spend money.

That said, today’s reading in Leviticus 19:9-10 throws my world in a bit of chaos:

“ ‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the Lord your God.

I’m not one for long quotes in a blog, but I couldn’t rephrase the insight below from The New Bible Commentary any clearer. Please read slowly:

The relief of poverty in Israel…was built into economic and legal structures, not left as a matter of private charity. This law…addresses the issue not from the angle of rights but of responsibilities. That is, it assumes the right of gleaning, but commands the landowner to make sure there is something to be gleaned. Boaz was a model of this in practice (Ruth 2).

Those who possessed land (and other productive resources) may not have been responsible for the plight of the poor (though the prophets keenly observed that their greed and exploitation may have contributed to it), but they were responsible to God to alleviate it. This law thus sets possession of resources in a framework of duty to God and others, and rejects the idea that private property is an absolute right, giving one freedom to extract every last drop of income or profit from one’s assets….Whatever the economic system, there must be adequate provision for the poor. Ownership confers responsibilities, not just privileges. And this is the practical meaning of holiness.

“With rights come responsibilities” this quote seems to say. But the responsibility isn’t to the poor or the alien, the responsibility is to God. And by caring for our neighbor who lives in poverty, we show our love for God—and our gratitude for his provision.

I find it interesting that even day laborers were protected under the provisions of the law (verse 13). Day laborers were extremely vulnerable, so God commanded that they be paid on time so the worker and his family wouldn’t go to bed that night hungry. Even aliens were offered equal protection.

But get this: the law in this case was dictated by God but enforced by Israel’s government. It wasn’t the choice of the individual.

What does this look like for us today? God loves a cheerful giver. But for the grumpy givers, God seems to mandate provision for the poor through governmental intervention.

To what extent should the government intrude on the charitable spending decisions of the individual? That’s up for debate—but it seems to me that God opts for greater generosity on our part toward the poor.


  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. Leviticus 19 gives a long list of short commands. Do any other them stick out to you as significant?
  3. Do you agree that children take criticism better than adults? Why or why not?
  4. What’s your reaction to the lo-o-o-ng quote in The Word Made Fresh?

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

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And They Lived Happily Ever After…Not!

Weddings are one of those occasions people hope will be problem-free. We want to start the marriage right and we want the happy ending at the end of our lives. But what do we do when things start falling apart—like the wedding ceremony above?

Join me today as we explore how to respond when we don’t get the happy ending.


Leviticus 16:29-18:30
Mark 7:24-8:10
Psalm 41:1-13
Proverbs 10:15-16


Leviticus 17. The purpose of forbidding the sacrifice of animals “outside the camp” is to prevent the people from making sacrifices to foreign gods (verses 1-5).

Verse 7 refers to the Egyptian practice of worshiping goat idols (satyrs), which consorted with spirits and demons. Apparently, this form of idolatry survived in Israel for a long time.

The New Bible Commentary offers some interesting insights to explain why eating blood was forbidden: “The primary reason for the ban on eating blood…was its sacredness as the major element in the sacrificial rituals. A secondary reason may have been that it inculcated a basic respect for life, which was not to be frivolously destroyed or treated with contempt. This was a very ancient principle in Israel, related to the covenant with Noah (see Genesis 9:4–6).”

Leviticus 18. The beginning of this discourse on prohibited sexual relationships begins with “I am the Lord your God” in order to reinforce the seriousness of his commands.

The sacrifice of children, homosexual sex, and bestiality were known elements of worship in Egypt, Canaan, and other surrounding cultures. Incest was fairly common among Egyptian royalty.

Violation of God’s commands regarding sex were particularly strident. We read in verse 28 that “If you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you.” The New Bible Commentary further explains, “The destruction of the Canaanites was not a matter of arbitrary divine favouritism, but of explicit moral judgment on a society which is described in the Bible, and confirmed by archaeology, as degraded, perverted and oppressive.”

Mark 7:24-30. If you’ve noticed thus far in our reading in Mark, whenever Jesus ministered in Israel, crowds flocked to him. In order to get a breather, he traveled to Tyre, which was inhabited by Gentiles, most of whom wouldn’t know his identity. Instead of a crowd, Jesus was recognized by a Greek woman with a child who was harassed by an unclean spirit.

While dogs were considered scavengers in Jewish society, in Greek culture, dogs were often considered pets. Jesus was saying that children should be fed before their pets. While in agreement with Jesus, this pagan woman demonstrated great faith by saying that only a crumb of Jesus’ power could heal her daughter. Which it did.

Mark 7:31-37. The Decapolis, which means “Ten Cities,” was inhabited mainly by Gentiles.

Psalm 41. This is the end of book 1 in Psalms. It began in chapter 1 with “Blessed is the man…” and concludes with “Blessed is he…”

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Psalm 41 intrigues me. In the first three verses, David extols the virtues and blessings of taking care of the weak or poor. But for the remainder of the psalm, David writes from the viewpoint of being one of those weak people.

Throughout the heart of the psalm, the writer begs for God’s mercy and intervention, in the same way that he showed mercy to the poor and weak.

This psalm, though, concludes without resolution to David’s problem. We don’t read the about the happy ending.

Isn’t that the way life is? Very rarely does it resolve according to our wishes. Nevertheless, David concludes by praising God (verse 13).

Most successful movies and best-selling books conclude with a happy ending. We all want the happy ending. We envision ourselves living the happy ending.

But what do we do when the ending isn’t happy—or we wait endlessly for the resolution to our problems?

That’s when we see what’s really inside.

I’ve known people who live in denial, and lift their voices in praise to God in the middle of difficult situations. Instead of acknowledging their problems, they ignore them altogether.That’s not what I’m talking about. The psalmist was obviously facing his problems because he recounted his pain and frustration in prayer.

But which comes first? The heart change that’s dedicated to praising God or the words of praise that change the heart?

Both. But if you’re like me, and your default setting isn’t always set on praising God, then the best place to start is by praising God no matter what.

What’s the benefit? It gives us God’s perspective and reminds us that God is good and great. We can trust him.


  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. What kind of people can assess their problems and still lift their voices in praise to God in the middle of a difficult situation? Describe a time when you witnessed this.
  3. Is it wrong to dream about the happy ending? Why or why not? How do you usually respond to the unhappy ending? How has God met you in the unhappy ending?

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

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Secrets To Breaching Security

Last November, Tareq and Michaele Salahi crashed a state dinner at the White House, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Vice President Joe Biden, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, and…ahem…President Barak Obama.

White House security was aghast at the breach. Imagine: two people common people—wealthy, but still common—slithered their way past some of the tightest security detail in the world and cozied up with the most powerful person in the world!

If you’ve seen the photos, Michaele smiles with a look like she’s the cat that swallowed the mouse.

I know virtually nothing about the Salahis, but I must admit that I admire their resourcefulness.

You can breach security too—of an even greater power than the President of the United States. In fact, you probably already have.

Please join me in today’s reading.


Leviticus 15:1-16:28
Mark 7:1-23
Psalm 40:11-17
Proverbs 10:13-14


Leviticus 15. The discharges described in verses 1-18 probably refer to male gonorrhea. Apparently, the existence of this sexually transmitted disease wasn’t nearly as intense as the present variety. Verses 16-18 refer to sexual intercourse or a nocturnal emission.

I was especially surprised by verse 18: “When a man lies with a woman and there is an emission of semen, both must bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening.”

This means sexual intercourse defiled both the man and woman until the next evening. While this might sound strange, it prevented people from participating in fertility cults, where men would have sex with temple prostitutes in order to gain their god’s blessing. In the same way, prostitutes would be perpetually unclean and unable to participate in the daily life of the community. This was a significant departure from the surrounding countries at that time.

Leviticus 16:1-28. The Day of Atonement was a very solemn occasion because it was the only day of the year that the high priest entered the Holy of Holies to seek forgiveness on behalf of Israel. We covered this in greater depth on February 12.

Mark 7:1-23. In verse 3, Mark explains the process of ritual cleansing because his audience is composed of Gentiles who wouldn’t understand.

Jesus told the Pharisees and teachers of the law—the religious leaders of his day—in verse 8, “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.” I wonder how often I fall into this same trap. We’re such creatures of habit that we can easily allow our traditions to violate Jesus’ command to love our neighbors as ourselves. On the surface, I can think of issues where this applies: style of music, style of dress, reaching out people outside the Christian camp, change dynamics. I have some scars from these battles—as I’m sure I’ve scarred others.

Also, consider this. In verses 21-23, Jesus lists what makes people unclean: evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. You know what? We’re all unclean!

Psalm 40:17. This verse is an appropriate response to the statement above: “Yet I am poor and needy; may the Lord think of me. You are my help and my deliverer.”

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At the beginning of Leviticus 16, we read that Aaron was told “not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place…or else he will die.” God permitted Aaron to enter the Holy of Holies on behalf of Israel only once a year. That’s it. The rest of the year, Aaron and the rest of Israel hoped Israel was doing the right thing. They hoped their relationship with God was right.

But Jesus changed all of this. The writer of Hebrews tells us,

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16).

Once a year the high priest entered the throne of grace—in fear and trembling. In fact, on the Day of Atonement, a rope was tied around the high priest’s foot, just in case he was struck dead in God’s presence and his assistants needed to pull him out.

But we can enter God’s presence—the throne of grace—with confidence. With confidence!

So what does it mean to approach the throne of grace?

Through prayer, you can approach God and receive forgiveness without fear of him using it against you. Anytime, anywhere, you can engage God in conversation without feeling like you’re interrupting his busy schedule. You have access to God 24/7/365. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

Growing up, my father owned a business in the oil and gas industry. Before the market fell apart in the mid-1980s, his office was located in a skyscraper in downtown Denver. It was pretty cool.

But what was really cool was when he brought me with him to work for the day. Because I was the owner’s son, I could go anywhere in the main office. I could run photocopies of various and sundry parts of my body. I could look over the shoulders of my dad’s employees. I could even flirt with the women who were working.

In fact, my dad instructed his receptionist, “It doesn’t matter who’s in my private office, if my son wants to come in, let him in. He doesn’t even need to knock.”

Nothing made me feel more important than knowing I had unlimited access into my father’s private office. So occasionally, just to see if my dad really meant it, I walked past the people waiting in line to meet with my dad, and enter his office.


You have privileges that far surpass Moses and Aaron!

So take every advantage of your opportunity.


  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. What causes people to value traditions over God’s commands? Can you name any examples you’ve seen? Are you brave enough to share a time when you’ve been an equal opportunity offender?
  3. What prevents you from believing that you have access to God 24/7/365?
  4. Describe a time when you entered the throne of grace with confidence? How did it affect you?
  5. What does it look like for you to approach the throne of grace? What does this tell us about Jesus and his heavenly Father?

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

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To Hurt Or Be Hurt

Not long ago, some dear friends treated my wife and me in a very rude and insensitive manner. I’ll spare you the details, but their offense left me angry and hurt. That night in bed, I composed an email in my mind, delving into their many inconsiderate actions. Quite honestly, I wanted to hurt them like they hurt us.

I laugh as I write this, because this scenario gets replayed multiple times a year with different sets of family and friends.

But how should we respond in situations like this?

Today’s reading gives us some clues. Please join me.

(But don’t follow the example of the men in the video above)


Leviticus 14:1-57
Mark 6:30-56
Psalm 40:1-10
Proverbs 10:11-12


Leviticus 14:1-32. Cedar and yarn were required in the cleansing ceremony because they were colored red (like blood), which symbolized life. Leviticus 17:11 says, “For the life of a creature is in the blood.” Hyssop was a leafy plant that was used to sprinkle the bloody concoction on the recovering leper.

It’s important to note that the required procedures were not intended to heal the person. They were intended to provide ritual cleansing.

Mark 6:30-44. After the crowds interrupted their much-needed rest, Jesus gave the disciples a break and taught the massive throng by himself. Then, concerned for the people’s well-being, the disciples recommended to Jesus that he shut everything down. Instead, Jesus turned the problem back on them. “You give them something to eat,” he said. Far too often, I live as if God doesn’t exist and that my only options are limited to what I can accomplish without his help. But if I lived as though I really believed God exists and interacts with his creation, my life would be much different.

Mark 6:45-56. Notice Mark’s use of the word “immediately” as a transition between these story and the one preceding it. Obviously Jesus wasn’t finished teaching them an important lesson in trusting him. This becomes even more obvious when, after calming the sea, we read that, “They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.” Jesus, however, wasn’t frustrated or impatient with his followers. Nor is he today…with us.

Psalm 40:4. This verse could function as the moral to our reading in Mark: “Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust.” People who make the Lord their trust are blessed. How? They don’t worry about how God is going to provide for their needs or protect them from harm.

Psalm 40:6. The Message offers a clearer paraphrase of this verse: “Doing something for you, bringing something to you—that’s not what you’re after. Being religious, acting pious—that’s not what you’re asking for. You’ve opened my ears so I can listen.”

Psalm 40:8. “I desire to do your will.” The word for “desire” in this translation isn’t strong enough. Other translations use the word “delight.” David delighted in doing God’s will. He wrote this psalm after his sin with Bathsheba, so he’s looking back at his transgression and realizing that doing God’s will—while at times difficult and frustrating—is indeed a delight. And it ultimately always is.

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Our reading from Proverbs 10:11-12 offers some great insights into relationships, especially ones that might be a little strained.

Verse 11 says, “The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked.” The next proverb, in verse 12, tells us that “Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs.”

Meditating on these two proverbs makes me think about the times people hurt or offend me. Deep inside I want to give the person a piece of my mind. To be honest, I want to strike back and hurt the person to the same degree that the person hurt me.

But “violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked.” Hurting someone for the sake of hurting them comes from the wicked side in me, not the righteous. “The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life” verse 11 tells us.

So where do we go with our hurt or frustration? Verse 12 offers a great insight: “Love covers over all wrongs.” The Hebrew word for “covers” means “to pardon.” The loving response is to pardon the offense. That doesn’t mean to excuse it, it means to acknowledge the hurt and still let it go.

Here’s the takeaway, for me at least. If I want to verbally strike back at a person who hurt me, I’m better off keeping my mouth shut. Unless my words are life-giving, I’m better off saying nothing at all. But best of all is pardoning the other person. Acknowledging the hurt or frustration to the offender, and then letting it go.

So how did I respond to our friends who offended us? I haven’t said anything yet. Fortunately, I never sent the email. But somewhere down the road, when I’m in a better place, I hope to engage in a conversation that pardons and produces a fountain of life.


  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. What would your life look like if you really believed that God exists and interacts in your life? What prevents you from fully trusting him?
  3. Describe a time in your life when you struck back and hurt a person who hurt you? What did you learn? Were you able to save the relationship?
  4. Describe a time in your life when you refrained from striking back and chose to pardon the person. What did you learn? Were you able to save the relationship?

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

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When Familiarity Breeds Contempt

Not since 1932 has the United States dominated the Winter Olympics like it has this year.  To our Canadian readers (my cousin Kerri, for one), I’m not trying to gloat. But it’s been almost 80 years since we’ve performed like this.

And for the first time in at least 20 years, I’ve actually set apart time to watch the Olympics with my family. What an enjoyable experience.

Growing up, our family watched both the Summer and Winter Olympics every four years. Franz Klammer and Scott Hamilton were Olympic medalists whom I admired. But something happened in my teens. I grew familiar with watching them. Over time, I grew bored and stopped watching them altogether. Until this year.

In today’s reading, we’ll look at what happens when we become familiar with something (actually someone) more important than the Winter Olympics. Please join me!


Leviticus 13:1-59
Mark 6:1-29
Psalm 39:1-13
Proverbs 10:10


Leviticus 13. The leprosy this chapter—and the rest of Scripture—refers to isn’t the kind where a “face-off in the corner” means literally a face off in the corner. It’s more accurately rendered “lesion” or “scaly skin.”

The New Bible Commentary further explains, “The unfortunate person pronounced unclean by the priest because of a serious skin disease was required to do several things which were tantamount to mourning rites, involving torn clothes, unkempt hair and a covered lower face. In a sense he or she was virtually counted ‘dead’, since the disease had allowed death to invade a still living body, and was condemned to a life of separation from both the community and the place of worship.”

The plight of lepers in Bible times make Jesus’ acceptance of them that much more pronounced.

Mark 6: 6. The New Bible Commentary offers an interesting insight: “Usually, Mark says that people were amazed at Jesus; here, he says that Jesus was amazed at them.” It’s also interesting that Jesus didn’t work miracles to build faith; he worked miracles in response to faith.

Mark 6:6-13. Isn’t it interesting that his disciples followed in Jesus’ footsteps? Jesus, the former carpenter, wasn’t flashy. In the same way, he sent out his disciples as peasants who relied on God to provide for their needs through the generosity of the people they helped. Their mission wasn’t to make money, their mission was to help people.

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Throughout his ministry, Jesus encountered criticism from the people closest to him. Earlier in Mark, we read that his family thought he was crazy. In Mark 6:1-6 we learn that the people in his hometown doubted him. Familiarity truly breeds contempt.

Mark offers a sad commentary on the people’s familiarity with Jesus: “they took offense at him.” The Greek word, skandalízō, means to stumble. What made them stumble? Jesus was so…human. They grew up with Jesus. They knew his father Joseph before he died. They watched Jesus hone his skills as a carpenter. How could Jesus, a carpenter, become the Messiah? How could the Messiah be just like them? But he was and he is!

I grew up with Jesus, too. All too easily I become familiar with him. I read nice stories about Jesus in my Bible and they fail to move me. I receive communion every week at church and fail to appreciate the sacrifice Jesus made on my behalf to forgive my sin.

Fortunately, Mark offers a clue to breaking out of our familiarity with Jesus in verse 5: “He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.” The people who Jesus healed were the ones who were sick. They humbled themselves enough to ask him to intervene.

We so easily become enamored with ourselves that we fail to believe we’re sick and broken. When we fail to acknowledge our brokenness, we fail to see our need for Jesus.

I’m not advocating that we brow-beat ourselves, but an honest acknowledgement of our brokenness places us in the position for Jesus to heal us. By acknowledgement, I don’t mean a general “I’m messed up.” What are the specifics of your brokeness?

Acknowledging them may help you break out of your familiarity with Jesus.


  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. What causes people to become familiar with Jesus? What causes you to be familiar with Jesus? How can you tell when you’ve become “familiar”?
  3. What brokenness can you acknowledge to Jesus?

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


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Tiger’s Transgression Confession

Tiger Woods stormed back into the news on Friday. Apparently the news networks deemed his confession important enough to interrupt all normally scheduled television programming.

Please excuse me while I rant…

What has our society come to? It seems to me that our media outlets are taking their cues from National Enquirer and Talking heads are now parsing every word, inflection, and gesture to evaluate Tiger’s sincerity and determine any subliminal messages.

Six weeks ago the earthquake in Haiti interrupted the news. Now it’s Tiger Woods. He’s a golfer! That’s it!

Tiger is trying to save his marriage and keep his family together. What he needs right now is privacy—but the media won’t cooperate!

Ahem…I feel better now.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming

Tiger’s situation reminds all of us that skeletons have a tendency to escape our closets. And once they get out, we have a hard time getting them back in.

Not so coincidentally, our reading today gives us some great advice to avoid Tiger’s transgressions.


Leviticus 11:1-12:8
Mark 5:21-43
Psalm 38:1-22
Proverbs 10:8-9


Leviticus 11. This is one of those chapters that leaves me with more questions than answers. Why place dietary restrictions on the people and what is the reasoning behind them? The answer to the first question is found in verse 44: “I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy.”

God called Israel to be different than the surrounding nations. Their way of life, morals, sacrifices, even their eating habits were designed to set them apart from other people. Living differently provided a natural boundary that prevented them from participating in some of the immoral practices of the neighboring countries.

A great deal of conjecture exists among Bible scholars about the rationale behind the dietary laws. The best answer I’ve seen is that the people were allowed to eat animals which were considered “normal” within their classification. The New Bible Commentary explains, “Hooved ruminants were ‘standard’ domestic land animals, suitable for sacrifice. Fins and scales were the ‘standard’ equipment of sea creatures. Birds of prey and carrion eaters obviously ate flesh with its blood and, therefore, behaved in an ‘unclean’ way. Creatures that moved in a mixture of ways and thus disturbed the boundaries, or whose movements were wily and unpredictable, were also ‘abnormal’.”

Leviticus 12. The Bible Background Commentary explains some of the reasoning behind this chapter: “In Israel bodily emissions such as menstrual blood and semen were closely associated with life. When the potential for life that they represented went unfulfilled, they would represent death and therefore uncleanness. That the uncleanness from childbirth should be seen as similar to monthly uncleanness from the menstrual cycle was common in ancient cultures, including Egypt, Babylonia and Persia.”

Mark 5:21-40. In this culture, people only bowed down to someone superior to them. The fact that a synagogue ruler would bow down to Jesus (in verse 22) is very significant.

The woman in the story was experiencing menstrual bleeding, which means she had been defiled for 12 years (see Leviticus 15:25-28). Because she touched Jesus, she made him unclean. Then later, Jesus took the little girl by the hand and healed her—and also made her unclean.

I find it interesting that Jesus never seems to be in a rush in this story. Jairus was trying to hurry Jesus along to save his daughter, but Jesus allowed himself to get sidetracked by the defiled woman. This tells me Jesus is always on time.

Psalm 38. Interestingly enough, this psalm is a confession David prayed to God for his sin…probably after being caught in his affair with Bathsheba. The wounds he mentions here probably aren’t the physical kind, but the wounds in his relationship with God and others as a result of his transgression.

Proverbs 10:8. One of the overarching themes I’ve noticed in Proverbs—including this one—is that people who talk too much are fools. Note to self: don’t talk too much!

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Proverbs 10:9 tells us “The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out.”

Obviously, some people go to the grave with their secrets, but for the most part, this is true. Unfortunately, Tiger thought he was the exception—which he admitted in Friday’s confession.

When our indiscretions become public, we lose control of the situation—which this well-known control freak learned. Trying to keep them hidden is like trying to hold a ball underwater. Somehow, it always finds its way to the surface.

So what is integrity? The Hebrew word here means “complete” or “whole.” Other translations use words like “honest” and “upright.” When a person lives in congruence, it means they act the same in public as they do in private.

People who walk in integrity walk securely because they have no secrets to hide or lies to remember. They also aren’t thrown onto a stage to apologize for their transgressions.

Dear God, help us walk in integrity. Obliterate the illusion that we’re the exception to the rule, that our sin won’t find us out. Please open our eyes to the beauty of the upright life and the reward that comes from living in the light.


  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. What causes people to hide their indiscretions? What advice would you give Tiger? How should we respond to Tiger’s confession?
  3. What does your reading from Mark tell you about Jesus? With whom do you identify most?

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


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The Miracle of the Seed

If you haven’t spent much time in an agricultural area, you probably don’t fully appreciate the miracle of planting and harvest.

Farmers are some of the biggest gamblers I know. They plant a crop in the winter or spring, then pray for rain at the right time, plenty of sun (but not too much), no hail, and then no rain when it’s time harvest the crop.

Most amazing of all, is the fact that after they plant the seed, they trust that the little seedlings will eventually grow into something that can be harvested. Farmers are truly amazing people.

You know, whether or not you live on the farm, you’re a farmer too.

Please join me in today’s reading to discover more.


Leviticus 9:7-10:20
Mark 4:26-5:20
Psalm 37:30-40
Proverbs 10:6-7


Leviticus 9:7-24. The difference between this chapter and chapter 8 is that in chapter 8, Moses performed the priestly functions while Aaron and his sons watched as laypeople. In this chapter, Aaron and his sons are now offering the same sacrificial rituals as priests. Moses has now handed off this function to Aaron. This is also a good example of mentoring. Moses first offered the sacrifice while Aaron watched. Now Aaron is offering the sacrifice while Moses watches. In verse 23, Moses and Aaron then entered the Tent of Meeting (tabernacle) together.

After the priests offer sacrifices on their own behalf, they offer sacrifices on behalf of the people. Notice the order of those sacrifices: sin offering, burnt offering, grain offering and fellowship offering. This gives us a logical order to worship: forgiveness, restoration of their relationship with God (called “atonement”), setting themselves apart to follow God in the future (called “consecration”), and fellowship.

Leviticus 10:1-20. After the priestly duties are passed to Aaron and his sons and glory of the Lord falls on the people, this chapter provides a real downer. Despite God’s meticulous instructions, Aaron’s sons offered “unauthorized fire” to God and were struck dead.

No one is certain what “unauthorized fire” means. “Unauthorized” literally means “strange” or “from the outside.” For this reason, some scholars believe the two sons brought fire from outside the tabernacle, rather than lighting the censer from the altar (Leviticus 16:12).

So what’s the takeaway from this tragic story? God is holy and should be taken seriously. He desires a relationship with us, but we must avoid treating him cavalierly or with disrespect.

Psalm 37:30-40. Doing the godly thing is difficult when people around you are taking shortcuts. In this section of Psalm 37, we’re encouraged to be patient and wait for God, because he sees everything and eventually we will be rewarded.

The reference to “sinners” obviously refers to wicked people who resort to violence and fail to heed God’s law. All of us are sinners.

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There are two types of people. Actually, there are more than just two types of people, but for the sake of this conversation, I’ll break them into two classifications: rule followers and rule breakers.

I’ve always been a rule follower. As a kid, it was important to play by the rules and ensure that everyone else was playing by the rules, too. When my friends broke the rules, I considered myself an emissary of God sent to inform them of their transgression.

As a result, my mom often advised me, “Mike, stop playing the part of the Holy Spirit!” Over time, it adversely affected some of my relationships…even as an adult.

As a parent, it’s tricky walking that fine line between parenting and playing the part of the Holy Spirit. Following in the footsteps of my wife, my oldest daughter is a rule breaker at her core. When Anna was sowing her wild oats, it drove me crazy. More disturbing than her behavior, my daughter’s contempt for God deeply concerned me.

“Mike, you can’t do anything about Anna,” Kelley assured me in those troubling moments. “We’ve planted seeds in her life. Now we have to wait for the seeds to grow.”

I knew she was right, but what I wanted to do was play the part of the Holy Spirit. Like the sower, I wanted to dig up the seeds that were under the soil to determine how they were doing.

The key phrase—to me at least—in Mark 4:26-29 is “all by itself.” The sower sows the seed, but the seed grows “all by itself.” The job description of the sower is to sow seeds and reap the harvest. The sower cannot, however, make the seed grow. Nor can the sower determine the yield of the harvest.

Really, all of us are sowers. All we can do is plant seeds and reap the harvest. We can till the soil and water the seeds, but the produce from the harvest is solely God’s responsibility.

Perhaps parenting isn’t your greatest stress. Maybe you have a loved one (even a spouse) who displays a contempt for God that really concerns you. Or a neighbor or coworker.

Do your best to avoid playing the Holy Spirit. Plant seeds, trust God and let him determine the nature of the harvest.


  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. What does Leviticus 10 tell you about God? Is it disappointing or disconcerting? Why or why not?
  3. How do people treat God with disrespect? How do you treat him with disrespect?
  4. What “shortcuts” are you tempted to take in your walk with God?

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

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You Can Live A Better Story

A month ago, I invited you to support a ministry I deeply believe in. RescueNet, a faith-based nonprofit organization was dispatched to Haiti in order to help in the relief effort.

Well, just today, I received word that the organization was lauded on a television program for their work. To see the video clip, click here.

Through your financial support, you made a difference in the lives of many Haitians!

Everyone wants to make a difference, they want to live a better story.

In today’s reading, we’re going to take a closer look at how we can actually do it!


Leviticus 7:28-9:6
Mark 3:31-4:25
Psalm 37:12-29
Proverbs 10:5


Leviticus 7:28-37. Although the explanation of the various sacrifices and offerings seems complicated, compared to the surrounding cultures, if was relatively simple and straightforward. Not only that, but Israel’s worship rituals conspicuously lacked anything associated with invoking omens from the entrails of sacrificed animals, human sacrifice, self-mutilation, the use of human blood, sexual and fertility rituals, sacrifices to the dead, or any other manipulation of occultic powers. Sacrifices were offered as a means of receiving forgiveness, or a response to God’s goodness, and nothing else. All of these were significant differences from the surrounding nations.

Leviticus 8:8. The Urim and Thummim were used to determine God’s will in a given situation. Unfortunately, no one is sure what they looked like, although many scholars believe they were either two small plates, one signifying “yes” and the other signifying “no” or two stones—one light and the other dark.

Leviticus 9:2. In Aaron’s first duty as high priest, God commanded him to offer a bull calf as a sin offering. Not so coincidentally, Aaron had fashioned a bull calf out of gold for Israel to worship while Moses was on Mt. Sinai. I’m not sure what this means, but perhaps God was reminding Aaron of his constant need for forgiveness or he was taking Aaron back to his gravest sin so they could move forward in a different direction together.

Mark 3:31-35. Jesus’ remarks in this section are astonishing. Whoever does God’s will is Jesus’ brother, sister, and mother. The implications of this statement are huge! This is good news for people who come from unhealthy families or single people or people without any family at all. It also carries responsibilities for married couples and healthy families—to welcome other unattached believers into their family. This also defines the relationships that should exist within the church. We’re family! We care about each other and we help each other.

Psalm 37:21-26. According to this passage, the trademark of the righteous person is generosity. It seems to me this applies not only to giving to churches and religious non-profit organizations (which didn’t exist thousands of years ago), but as a way of life.

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Thus far into 2010, my co-pastor Eugene and I have been exploring with our church what it means to live a better story. In fact, Living A Better Story is our theme for the year.

Deep down, I think all of us want to live better lives. Lives of significance. Lives that make a difference in other people’s lives.

Jesus’ example of the sower and the seed is one of the key parables in the Gospels. A farmer sows seed in his field, which is composed of rocks, thorns, a hardened path, and fertile soil. Although every area in the field is given the opportunity to be fruitful, only the rich, fertile soil produces anything of worth.

Most people (including me) read Jesus’ explanation of the parable and interpret it from the perspective of the sower: Jesus commissions us to sow seeds indiscriminately and leave the results to him.

But today, I began asking myself, what’s the condition of my field?

When I compare myself to the different types of soil, I find myself in every one of them.

All too often I ignore the conviction of the Holy Spirit or the clear message of Scripture. I ultimately prove that my field definitely includes a hardened path that runs through the center.

Other times, I feel inspired to serve God or make changes in my behavior. I want to do the right thing, but my passions run elsewhere or I just lose focus. Those areas of my life resemble the rocky ground.

My greatest challenge involves the thorny soil. I get so busy, so self-absorbed, so caught up in my plans that I forget about other people and my relationship with Jesus.

And yet, by God’s grace I still see fruit. It’s a glimpse of the better story that I seek.

Here’s my point: Living a better story usually occurs in rich, fertile soil. God produces the fruit, but I control the soil. Living a better story—fruitfulness—begins with cultivating the fallow ground of my heart.

I’d love to give you a formula for cultivating your fallow ground, but it looks different in all of us.


  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. What’s the condition of your field? How do you cultivate your heart so you can live a better story?
  3. “Followers of Jesus should be the most generous people in the world.” Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not? Has that been true of your experience?

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


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