Monthly Archives: April 2010

Let’s Make A Deal

Growing up, one of my favorite television shows was Let’s Make A Deal hosted by Monte Hall. With the help of his lovely assistant, Carol Merrill, Hall made deals with his contestants in order for them to win more money. In the pilot episode, the grand prize totaled US$2005!

We love making deals. In fact, our love for making deals has transformed garage sales into an art form. Years ago, Donald Trump wrote a book called The Art Of The Deal.

But can we make deals with God?

Please join me in today’s reading and find out.


Judges 11:1-12:15
John 1:1-28
Psalm 101:1-8
Proverbs 14:13-14


Judges 11:1-12:15. The story of Jephthah begins hopeful and ends tragic. The son of a prostitute, Jephthah is kicked out of his family by his siblings but then they beg for him to return because he’s a strong military leader. He agrees to deliver his family from the Ammonites, but in the heat of battle, makes a bargain with God: If God gives him the victory, he will sacrifice whatever comes out of his door to greet him.

Tragically, his daughter greets him, and true to his word, he sacrifices her. Because she was his only child, he forfeited his land to another family after his death. This would have been seen as tragic.

While trying to make heads or tails of this story, The New Bible Commentary added an interesting observation. PLEASE READ:

In context it can be seen as nothing other than a mistaken attempt to bargain with God. Jephthah the master negotiator overplayed his hand and paid a tragic price. The second half of this episode reads like a grim inversion of Genesis 22, the story of another father and another only child. But Jephthah was no Abraham, and in his case there was no voice from heaven, only a punishing silence. We can only conclude that the Lord was as angry with Jephthah’s vow as he was with Israel’s ‘repentance’…It is worth considering how often modern prayers contain elements of bargaining with God. Jephthah’s example makes it clear that God is not to be bargained with in this way.

Later on, Jephthah faces more stress as the men of Ephraim show their jealousy for not being asked to join in battle. My hunch is, they were angry because they had no right to the spoils of battle. The New Bible Commentary also explains “the Ephraimites regarded themselves as the natural leaders of Israel and were not willing to acknowledge as judge anyone outside their own tribe, least of all a Gileadite.”

Notice that God plays a minimal role in Jephthah’s leadership and in the squabbles between the tribes. Earlier in their history, they would have consulted the Urim and Thummim, or at least a prophet.

John 1:1-28. I love the gospel of John. When I studied Greek in seminary, it was the first book we examined because it was written with clarity and simplicity. It’s also the most theological of the four gospels. As we read together, you may notice that John only shares seven miracle stories, each with spiritual significance.

You’ll also notice that the book is quite different from the first three gospels. Legend has it that after the first three gospels were compiled in written form, an angel appeared to Andrew in a dream and told him to tell John to write a fourth gospel in order to cover material that wasn’t covered previously. It might not be true, but it’s an interesting story, nonetheless.

The word “Word” appears 3 times in chapter one. The Bible Background Commentary explains John’s purpose in using it:

The Greek term translated “word” was also used by many philosophers to mean “reason,” the force which structured the universe; Philo combined this image with Jewish conceptions of the “word.” The Old Testament had personified Wisdom (Prov 8), and ancient Judaism eventually identified personified Wisdom, the Word and the Law (the Torah).

By calling Jesus “the Word,” John calls him the embodiment of all God’s revelation in the Scriptures and thus declares that only those who accept Jesus honor the law fully (1:17). Jewish people considered Wisdom/Word divine yet distinct from God the Father, so it was the closest available term John had to describe Jesus.

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The story of Jephthah is quite disturbing. The son of a prostitute kicked out of his family, his family later begs him to come back in order to lead them in battle against the Ammonites.

But most disturbing is Jephthah’s bargain with God. It seems to me that God saved Israel, not because of Jephthah’s bargain, but because of his mercy. Really, Japhthah placed God in a bind. If he won the battle, Israel would be saved and Jephthah’s daughter would be lost. If he lost the battle, Israel would be destroyed but his daughter’s life would be saved.

In my life as a pastor, I’ve seen countless people bargain with God:

  • If I give to the church, I want God to bless my business.
  • If I go to church, I want God to get me out of my drunk driving charge.
  • If I live a holy life, I expect a life without pain.

Jephthah’s story tells us that God doesn’t bargain. What does our bargaining with God say about God? Probably that we don’t trust him.

But even more so, what does it say about us?


  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. Have you ever tried to bargain with God? What happened? When we  bargain with God, what does this say about us?
  3. What does John 1 tell you about Jesus?

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Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado


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The Difference Between Taking Off Your Shoes And Picking Blackberries

The poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) wrote an intriguing poem that has stuck with me since I first read it years ago:

Earth’s crammed with heaven,

And every common bush afire with God;

But only he who sees, takes off his shoes-

The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries. . . .

Today we’re going to talk about the difference between taking off your shoes and picking blackberries. Please join me.


Judges 9:22-10:18
Luke 24:13-53
Psalm 100:1-5
Proverbs 14:11-12


Judges 9:22-10:18. Once again, we see the failure of a great leader—Gideon—to raise up any worthy successors. Abimelech, Gideon’s son killed all of his brothers so he could be the judge of Israel. We also see evidence of idol worship beginning to flourish upon Gideon’s death.

Most interesting to me is the comment that “God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the citizens of Shechem” (verse 23). Although God isn’t evil, the evil powers are still subject to him.

After Abimelech’s death, we read a list of judges who followed him. They weren’t, however, godly leaders, and as a result God sent other nations to invade the people. Then we see the familiar phrase, “Then the Israelites cried out to the LORD.”

Luke 24:13-53. We’ll take a closer look at the walk to Emmaus in a moment, but I never noticed that the two men who initially failed to recognize Jesus actually see Jesus in the next scene when Jesus appears while the men are telling their story to the 11 disciples (remember that Judas Iscariot was no longer with them).

In verse 39, Jesus invites the men to touch him. This was significant, because when the gospels were written, Gnostics were gaining influence. They believed that the material world was completely evil—so they taught that Jesus didn’t have a material body. In other words, he was like Casper the Friendly Ghost. Jesus, in fact, says, “Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

After that, we also see Jesus eating fish in their presence, which a ghost wouldn’t do.

Later in Galatians and Colossians, we’ll take a closer look at this Gnosticism, which opens the doors to a host of problems.

Last of all, notice that Jesus’ parting words to his disciples were, “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Remember that Luke is part one of a two part series (the second part being the book of Acts). Read Acts 1 and you’ll see that the two books work together seamlessly.

Psalm 100. This was a song sung by Israel when they gathered at the temple. Notice that the song begins with “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.” We don’t see a lot of shouting at church nowadays, but I think when we realize how great and awesome God is, we’ll shout.

Proverbs 14:12. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” This is another passage that demonstrates the importance of humility. We can convince ourselves that we’re right and refuse to listen, but in the end it leads us to death.

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The story of the two men on their walk to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) is a fascinating story. Jesus had risen from the dead that morning and Jerusalem was buzzing about the missing body. While walking to Emmaus, Jesus suddenly appeared to the two downcast men.

What amazes me about the story is the men’s inability to recognize Jesus. They obviously were followers of Jesus, because his death had dashed their hope in the belief that he was the messiah.

Then, we read that they’re eyes were opened, in other words, they didn’t recognize Jesus, God most likely opened their eyes for them. But also, did you notice that their eyes were opened when Jesus broke the bread and gave it to them?

How often does Jesus appear to us—and speak to us—yet we fail to recognize him? I often get so myopic about me and my world that I fail to see the people around me, and even more so, Jesus. Either that, or I get so busy that I run right past him without recognizing him.

Granted, God speaks to us all around, but I think at times many of us need to break our addiction to busyness before our eyes will be opened. That’s why the Sabbath is so important (I’m speaking to myself here).

Dear God, slow us down and open our eyes so we will see you at work around us all the time.


  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. What can you imagine your world would look like if God opened your eyes to see Jesus all around you?
  3. Where would you find him?
  4. Read Psalm 100. According to the passage, what inspired the people to shout for joy? What can we learn from them?

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

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April 28, 2010

Eugene C. Scott joins Mike in writing A Daily Bible Conversation twice a week.

My kindergarten age daughter paid scant attention to the TV as the reporter and a safety expert gleefully searched several playgrounds for implements of childhood torture. It was National Playground Safety Day and the reporter rattled off alarming statistics about playground injuries. At each playground, however, much to their chagrin, the safety team found no violations.

Standing in the kitchen devouring my unsafe sugary cereal, I chortled and made derogatory comments about the news media manufacturing news. My wife, an elementary school teacher, disagreed and chastised me for being so cynical.

Meanwhile the reporter finally found a safety violation.

“Eureka!” I shouted.

Horrors, they had found the ground at the bottom of the slide too hard.

I laughed out loud. My wife gave me “the look” and I stifled further commentary, bundled up my daughter, and delivered her to school.

By 10A.M. I had forgotten all about National Playground Safety Day. Until my phone rang.

“Mr. Scott?”


“This is the nurse from your daughter’s school,” said the kind woman. “Don’t worry. She’s not hurt. We are just required to tell you that she fell off the swing on the playground and hit her head.”


Judges 8:18-9:21

Luke 23:44-24:12

Psalm 99:1-9

Proverbs 14:9-10


Judges 8:18-9:21. Notice how easily Gideon and the people fall back into fear and false worship practices. How we live out our ideas and theology makes a difference in what our lives look like. They are following the practices of the nations around them in raising up the sons of the previous leader/king despite that God does not approve nor is the person always worthy.

Luke 23:44-24:12 . Luke’s recounting of the crucifixion is very spare but each detail counts. Luke is now considered one of the finest ancient historians because of his historical accuracy and detail.

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If you had to choose between freedom and safety, which direction would you lean? In my corner of the world it seems we’re listing toward safety and away from freedom. Just watch the news, as I mention above. Rules to keep us safe are all the rage.

But this heedless pursuit of safety is downright dangerous. It has driven us seek lives that brook no upsets and to form families, churches, and governments whose primary calling is protect us rather than challenge us and give us a scary freedom that may help us grow and become–not safe–but holy.

Further this so-called protected lifestyle has left us more vulnerable to the dangers we fear. For example, studies show using too much antibacterial soap is actually making us weaker and bacteria stronger.

Seeking too much safety may also subtly lead us to seek a safe (and unreal) God. God is anything but safe, says Mark Buchanan in his book Your God is Too Safe.  “God isn’t nice. God isn’t safe. God is a consuming fire,” he writes.

Before us seeking safety led the Israelites to a fatal misunderstanding of God. In an obvious bid for safety they beg Gideon, “Rule over us.” On the surface this is understandable. They live in a dangerous, war-torn world and, as we see later in the story, will do almost anything to have someone, anyone, other than the uncontrollable, fiery, invisible God of Moses and Joshua, walk with them in it.

Instead they choose corruptible human leadership and return to worshiping their safe, self-made, wooden god’s that exact no real demands nor deliver any real help. But they feel safe.

No matter whether we would choose safety over freedom, God often seems to choose freedom for us. It seems to me this is because, though dangerous, freedom births life while safety puts us to sleep, at best.

  1. When do you feel most safe?
  2. Are there any links between these four readings?
  3. When do you feel most free?
  4. When have you grown most in your faith?

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Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO and writes a blog

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Just Or Unjust

A mother approached the French Emperor Napoleon to ask for mercy for her son. He had committed some breach of the French law.

“Madam, the emperor replied, “this is the second time the boy has offended. Justice requires that he should die.”

“I did not come to ask for justice. I beg for mercy,” She pleaded.

“He does not deserve mercy,” Napoleon shot back.

But Sire,” she said, “it would not be mercy if he deserved it. I ask for mercy.”

When she put it that way, the emperor replied, “Well, then, I will have mercy.”

Today we’re going to look at a serious case of injustice, which results in mercy.

Please join me.


Judges 7:1-8:17
Luke 23:13-43
Psalm 97:1-98:9
Proverbs 14:7-8


Judges 7:1-8:17. This is one of my favorite stories in the Bible. God calls Gideon to lead a pared-down army into battle with the much stronger Midianites. He does this is to prove that the victory belongs to God, and no one else. As part of the paring-down process, God tells Gideon to separate the armies according to the way they drink water from the river. The Bible Background Commentary explains the logic behind this:

Those who drink water in a kneeling position with their heads in the water to lap it up are (1) an easy target, (2) unaware of any enemy movement while they drink, and (3) susceptible to leeches. The alternative is to lie down flat (where one presents less of a target) and to keep alert, bringing water to the mouth while continuing to look around.

With this in mind, the only soldiers left are the fearless, battle-ready men.

When Gideon and his men finally surrounded the enemy, the Midianite armies assumed that each torch represented a small percent of a much larger army. With the prospect of being massively outnumbered, the men panicked.

Luke 23:13-43. In this section of the passion narrative, Pilate reveals his penchant for leading according to the polls. Despite his belief in Jesus’ innocence, Pilate sides with the people who yell the loudest and agrees to have Jesus crucified. A later Jewish ruler is said to have characterized Pilate as “inflexible, merciless and obstinate.” Pilate’s agreement to crucify an innocent man proved he had few if any scruples.

Psalm 97. Moving immediately to this psalm following our previous reading is an abrupt change. “The LORD reigns, let the earth be glad” (verse 1). We read in verse 4, “His lightning lights up the world; the earth sees and trembles.” God’s power causes the earth to tremble. This seemingly correlates with Jesus’ words in Luke 23:29-30, “For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then ” ‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” Both speak to the power of God to destroy. It also demonstrates God’s unbelievable measure of restraint when his son was crucified.

Psalm 98. The nature of Jesus’ death in our reading brings verse 2 to life: “The LORD has made his salvation known and revealed his righteousness to the nations.”

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Forgiveness is just…just…unjust.

As we take a third look at Jesus’ crucifixion in the Gospels, I’m struck by Jesus’ words in Luke 23:34: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” In the midst of his crucifixion, Jesus chose to forgive the people nailing him to a cross. In fact, one of the criminals on the cross stated it clearly in Luke 23:41: “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

Furthermore, we see the injustice of Jesus’ promise of eternal life to the man hanging on the cross: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Earlier today a person made a flippant remark that cut deeply. I don’t want to forgive the person because the remark was so unjust. Then I read about Jesus on the cross and the man hanging next to him—a man that could be me. Jesus’ act of forgiving me is downright unjust. By clinging to unforgiveness, I would be denying the forgiveness Jesus unjustly offered me.

I’m a justice-loving person, but I wonder if I sometimes make an idol out of my love for justice. Granted, we need justice to hold society together, but do I need justice played out in every area of my life?

If I did, then I deserve to hang on a cross next to Jesus.


  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. How have you experienced God’s unjust act of forgiveness?
  3. Describe a time when you dispensed unforgiveness to another person. What did it do in you?

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

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What’s In Your Wallet?

What’s most important to you? I once heard a speaker who claimed if we just look at our check registers and our calendars, they will reveal what we value most. Trouble is my wife won’t let me have the checkbook. But seriously how we spend our time and money carries a clue to what we value.

It’s true. My calendar is full of meetings with people and time for family and writing. Gaps in my calendar also reveal that I struggle to find time for other things I value. Hiking, fishing, and hunting are very important to me. Yet I shoehorn them in. Worshiping God also. Too often God sits patiently in the lobby of my life waiting for a cancellation in my schedule. In the end I am the one who suffers for this.

Psalm 95 is an encouraging picture of what life can look like when we put worshiping God together first. Read on.

Eugene C. Scott joins Mike in writing A Daily Bible Conversation twice a week.


Judges 6:1-40
Luke 22:54-23:12
Psalm 95:1-96:13
Proverbs 14:5-6


Judges 6:1-40. Though the office of judge has not been mentioned before now, it was probably not a new office. Moses appointed (Exodus 18:13-14 ) leaders to help him judge disputes between the people. When Israel settled in cities, the judges would sit near the main gate of the city and hear peoples disputes. At this point in Israel’s history, these judges are the only “political” leaders the fledgling nation has. That they began to serve as military leaders was a new development.

Luke 22:54-23:12. Scholars often make hay about Jesus’ silences and refusal to answer questions during his “trial.” Some even go so far as to say that this silence is how Jesus ensured he would make it to the cross. This is doubtful. During his three year ministry, Jesus never put himself in the hands of others by answering their questions. And he often answered them by asking a question that drove to the core of the real issue. Here with Herod his silence seems to highlight that Herod wanted Jesus to perform the equivalent of a circus trick. Jesus refuses to even answer the king’s questions much less perform for him. In this Jesus silently states who the true King is.

Psalm 95:1-96:13. Modern hymn books organize their music by holidays (Christmas, Easter, etc.) and alphabetically. The Psalms were organized around ideas or themes. For example Psalm 1 was not the first to be written or the most popular. Rather Psalm 1 communicates the primary theme of walking in the way of God and not the way of the wicked. Psalm 90-100 are grouped together because they deal with dwelling in God and Psalm 95 is centered in those eleven Psalms because it focuses on worship being the center of our lives with God.

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Ever wonder how many of the 2.5 billion Christians (worldwide) fit attending a worship service into their schedule this last weekend? Probably not. Only us pastors think about such things, and pollsters. And God; God thinks about such things, even though he knows the answer.

Worship seems pretty important to God, especially people doing it together.

Just look at God’s checkbook and calendar, so to speak. God spent a lot of time and money on worship. God appointed an entire tribe, the Levites, whose only job was to make sure Israel worshiped. God commands Moses to fund and build an elaborate Tabernacle for people to worship in. Scripture mentions worship around 250 times. And, whether the word is used or not, worship is the main theme of the Psalms.

Ever wonder why? After all it’s a pretty strange thing to do.

Psalm 95 gives us some answers.

  • Worship focuses our relationship with God and others who love God. “Come let us sing for joy to the Lord. . . Let us come before him. . . the Rock of our salvation.”
  • Worship fixes our priorities. “For the Lord is our great God, the great King above all gods.”
  • Worship gives us a real picture of who we are and who God is. “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.”
  • Worship communicates we matter to God. “And we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.”
  • Worship draws us into God’s presence in a way other activities cannot. Those who don’t worship and listen to God’s voice will “never enter [his] rest.”

Unfortunately even when I go to worship, I don’t always connect with God. For me that is because, on that day, it is a duty, or a nuisance, or God doesn’t seem to meet “my needs.” On the days I do connect, however, it’s because I go to meet with God, to spend quality time with God and his people. And that is when my priorities realign. Psalm 95 communicates that worship is the open door to God’s dwelling place. Let us enter in.


  1. When do you best connect with God?
  2. Are there any links between these four readings?
  3. When was the last time you worshiped God with others?
  4. What part of worship brings you closest to God?

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Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO and writes a blog.


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It Hurts So Good

Over the last two years or so, the world economy has been shaken, in large part due to American excess. Personal debt had increased dramatically while certain Wall Street CEOs were literally stealing from their companies.

Around the time the economy was beginning to disintegrate, I struck up a conversation with a local venture capitalist at a wedding reception. As he explained the excessive dishonesty and fraud taking place in the financial markets, I became increasingly incensed. What newspapers were reporting was just the tip of the iceberg.

Interestingly enough, though, the economic downtown has proven to somewhat cleanse our economy of its impurities. It isn’t perfect by any means, but downturns do tend to weed out the crooks and hangers-on. Even recently, reports of improprieties at Goldman Sachs have prompted new calls for reform.

What does this have to do with you and me?


Read and find out.


Remember that today’s readings cover Saturday and Sunday.

Judges 2:10-5:31
Luke 22:14-53
Psalm 92:1-94:1-23
Proverbs 14:1-4


Judges 2:10-5:31. Shortly after Joshua’s death we read that “another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals” (Judges 2:10).

In an age of relativism, the idea of passing along our faith to our children seems politically incorrect. “Everyone should decide on their own what faith they will follow,” people say. The fact is, if we don’t pass our faith to the next generation, they likely won’t find it on their own. The gravity of our sinful nature pulls us away from God.

So, as Israel began deteriorating, God raised up judges to restore their relationship with God and mobilize them against their enemies. The Bible Background Commentary explains the role of the Old Testament judge:

In English the term judge is used to describe an official who maintains justice within the established court system. The Hebrew term used in the context of this book describes an individual who maintains justice for the tribes of Israel. This justice comes in bringing protection from foreign oppressors. Maintaining international justice was often the role of the king. What made these judges unlike kings was that there was no formal process for assuming the office, nor could it be passed on to one’s heirs. There was no supporting administration, no standing army and no taxation to underwrite expenses. So while the actual function of the judge may have had much in common with the king, the judge did not enjoy most of the royal prerogatives.

Chapter 2 also shows a pattern that Israel will follow not only with their judges, but with their kings as well:

  1. Israel provokes the Lord by worshipping other gods (verses 11–13).
  2. The Lord punishes them by handing them over to their enemies (14–15).
  3. When they are in dire straits the Lord raises up judges who save them (16–18).
  4. After the judge dies the people return to their old ways (19).

Chapter 3, then, begins a succession of judges. One of the early judges was a man named Shamgar (3:31), whom scholars believe was likely a Gentile, because he didn’t have a Hebrew name and the city he came from was clearly pagan (Anath was the name of a Canaanite goddess). When a Hebrew person wasn’t up to the task, God raised up a god-fearing Gentile!

Next, when a Hebrew or Gentile man wasn’t available, God raised up someone even more unlikely in that culture: a woman. Incidentally, the NIV does all of us a disservice in 4:4 by using the word “leading” to describe Deborah’s role instead of the more accurate word, “judging.” Their mis-translation seems to minimize her role.

Luke 22:14-53. Immediately following Jesus’ explanation of the Lord’s Supper, the disciples break into a debate about how is the greatest in the kingdom. Then Jesus says, “The greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves” (verse 26). The youngest person in the family—especially if the person were a child—held the least amount of rights in the family.

This time, while reading through the Passion narrative, I was struck by Jesus’ advice in 22:40 to “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” In fact, Jesus repeats these words again in 22:46. This not only echoes the Lord’s prayer (“lead us not into temptation”), but it also provides us with a way of escape. Granted, prayer isn’t a formula, but through prayer God changes our perspective, which often guides us away from temptation. Preceding Jesus’ words, we also read that he “went out as usual to the Mount of Olives.” Jesus was a man of prayer.

Finally, reading about Judas’ betrayal of Jesus with a kiss brought me to an abrupt halt. Whenever I tell Jesus that I love him and then live for myself, I do the very same thing.

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The last few days have been sheer delight for one of my daughters. After being grounded the last six weeks (the result of poor choices) and losing cell phone privileges for the last four months (the result of problems at school), she’s finally free.

Actually, I’ve been fairly pleased with the results. Although my daughter hated the inconvenience that came from her discipline, I’m hopeful it will bring positive change.

In today’s reading, the subject of discipline shows up quite often:

  • In Deuteronomy, we learned that God allowed other nations to terrorize Israel, in order used to restore them back to faithfulness.
  • In Luke, we read how Jesus rebuked the disciples for arguing who was the greatest in the kingdom.
  • Then in Psalm 94:12, we read “Blessed is the man you discipline, O Lord.”
  • Finally, we learned that “A fool’s talk brings a rod to his back” (Proverbs 14:3).

None of us likes discipline—from Wall Street financiers to my daughter to me. In fact, I usually interpret discipline as downright evil. Of course, I’m looking at things from my perspective. But from God’s perspective? Perhaps a little pain can bring a little life.

Picking up on yesterday’s post, where do you go with your pain? I refuse to believe that all pain is discipline from God, but if I choose to make him my dwelling place whenever it hits, than all pain can be instructive and redemptive.


  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. What does it mean for you to be “the youngest” and “the one who serves”?
  3. Describe a time when God disciplined you? What were you like “before” and”after”? Was it worth it?

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

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A Shelter In Any Storm

In the 1950s, Western culture was rife with concern about fallout from nuclear war.  As a result, families built shelters to protect them from a nuclear storm. Looking back, the concern seems like much ado about nothing, but at the time, the threat was very real.

What shelters do you run to when you encounter pain, suffering, or fear?

Join me today as we explore the shelter that will protect you from any disaster


Judges 1:1-2:9
Luke 21:29-22:13
Psalm 90:1-91:16
Proverbs 13:24-25


Judges 1:1-2:9. The book of Judges is one of the more uncomfortable books in Scripture to read for me. It tells stories about “godly” people doing ungodly things and ungodly people doing ungodly things. The bottom line lesson I learn from this book is that God can work through broken people. That doesn’t mean he excuses our questionable actions, but it does mean he works through us in spite of us.

The Bible Background Commentary explains that cutting off a man’s thumbs and big toes (verse 6), “was designed both to humiliate prisoners and to insure they could never serve as warriors again. Unsteady on their feet and unable to grasp a sword, spear or bow, these men could only beg to survive.”

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned that Joshua seemingly did nothing to raise up a leader to replace him. In chapter 1, this becomes obvious. Initially, the residual effect of Joshua’s leadership guided Israel, but soon it began to unravel. In fact, as chapter one progresses, it appears that Israel loses steam in driving out their enemies. The danger for Israel is that living alongside the other nations makes them susceptible to taking on their values—which they do. Furthermore, in 2:1-9, we read that God didn’t bless Israel’s efforts because they failed to break down the altars of the Canaanites.

Luke 21:29-22:13. At the beginning of this section, Jesus compares the coming kingdom of God to a fig tree. In Palestine, the fig tree is the first to show its leaves and indicate that summer is approaching.

We read in 22:2 that the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus because for they were afraid of the people. The leaders were feared that if they tried to kill him, riots would ensue. Judas Iscariot’s role, then, was to provide the authorities with a way to kidnap Jesus in an isolated place without attracting a lot of attention—like kidnapping him in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Notice Luke’s words in 22:7: “Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed.” Normally, he would write that the day occurred when the Passover lamb is sacrificed. But by using the Greek term which means “it is necessary,” he points to Jesus as the ultimate sacrificial lamb.

Psalm 90. Notice that Moses wrote this psalm.

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Dwelling place. Refuge. The place we go to hide. First line of defense. Confidante.

In our two psalms today (Psalm 90-91), we read how the Lord has been our “dwelling place” (90:1) and that “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty” (91:1). Have you ever wondered what it means to make God your dwelling place?

The question can be ascertained by answering the question: “When you feel stressed or happy or in pain, where do you go first?” Some people go to a friend. Other people go to a spouse. Then again, some people make friends with their bottle, or some other addiction. Making God our dwelling place means making him our person of first response.

God is jealous for our love—not only because he loves us, but because he knows his love is better than any other alternative.


  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. How have you experienced God as your dwelling place?
  3. How do you make him your dwelling place?
  4. What does Psalm 91 tell you about God?

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

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Avoiding Deja Vu

Despite being retired for over 20 years, Yogi Berra still remains a major league baseball icon. In fact, if you don’t recognize his name, you surely recognize a few of his famous malapropisms:

  • Describing baseball, he once said, “90% of the game is half mental.”
  • On why he no longer went to a restaurant in his hometown of St. Louis: “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”
  • Responding to a question about remarks attributed to him that he did not think were his: “I really didn’t say everything I said!”
  • In 1973, when the team he was managing, the New York Mets, captured the division crown after being behind by 9 1/2 games just two months before: “”It ain’t over till it’s over.”

But my favorite Yogi Berra quote occurred in the early 1960s (No–I don’t remember those days!) when his New York Yankees team featured Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, who repeatedly hit back to back home runs:

“It’s déjà vu all over again”.

Somehow, Yogi’s malapropism rings true. How often the past repeats itself. In fact, it seems to me that the more we ignore the past, the more we’re destined to repeat it. But the more we remember the past, the better chance we have of NOT repeating it.

Today, we’re going to look at avoiding “deja vu all over again.”

Please join me!


Joshua 24:1-33
Luke 21:1-28
Psalm 89:38-52
Proverbs 13:20-23


Joshua 24. A pattern I see in Scripture is the tendency to remind people of their past. In this chapter, Joshua recounts Israel’s history from Abraham’s father up to the present. His words culminate with this statement: “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness.”

God’s hand on our lives is rarely seen in the moment, but it becomes much more clear when we see it in retrospect. Joshua recounts Israel’s history to prevent spiritual amnesia. Ultimately, Joshua’s words and the Israel’s response result in a new covenant between them and God.

This chapter is reminiscent of Deuteronomy 30-34, when Moses gives his final words to Israel before dying.

As I read about Israel’s generation of leaders dying—Joshua and Eleazar—I couldn’t help wondering how the leadership vacuum would affect Israel. As opposed to Moses, we see no evidence of Joshua raising up a leader to replace him.

Our journey through Judges will answer that question clearly.

Luke 21. The widow’s offering at the beginning of the chapter proves that in God’s economy, the size of the gift doesn’t matter—but the size of the sacrifice does.

Here are a few thoughts about verses 5-28:

  • If I were to place myself in the sandals of the people at that time, I think Jesus’ comment about the temple being destroyed would be a little confusing. Jesus didn’t necessarily make it easy for people to understand him. At the same time, his prophecy about the destruction of the temple really had two meanings—the destruction of his body on the cross and the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. Such is the nature of prophecy.
  • Jesus’ followers endured suffering. For centuries, theological debates have ensued regarding whether or not Jesus’ followers will undergo persecution at the end of the age. This passage seems to point toward suffering.
  • Jesus’ words don’t seem like the kind of address that would attract a great number of followers. This persuades me to conclude that Jesus never sacrificed truth for popularity or a large following. The same isn’t true of some churches today—especially the heretics on television who espouse prosperity theology. Not all television preachers are heretics, but too many of them are.

Psalm 89:38-52. This psalm burns with anguish. “How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your wrath burn like fire?” (verse 46). The psalmist asks, “Where is your former great love?” Yet, at the conclusion of his isolation and anguish, he finishes with these words: “Praise be to the Lord forever! Amen and Amen.” A tendency in the psalms is for the psalmist to conclude their poem—even if it’s negative or angry—with praise to God.

Incidentally, this concludes book four of the Psalms.

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Growing up, history was always one of my favorite subjects. I enjoyed reading other people’s stories—where they succeeded, where they failed, where they overcame the odds to triumph.

Unfortunately, our society doesn’t always do a good job of remembering their past. Due to our selective amnesia, we’re destined to repeat the mistakes of our past.

In today’s reading, I was struck by the fact that in Scripture, history paved the way for the future. “Because the Lord was faithful in the past,” the prophets and leaders told the people, “he will be faithful in the future.”

In the moment, few of us recognize God’s hand. But looking at the past, we can often see it all over the place. Just as hindsight is 20/20, the same is true of recognizing God’s faithfulness.

So what does this mean for you and me?

Stressful seasons need not overwhelm us. Just as we’ve survived or thrived through every season of the past, so will we survive or thrive in the future.

When I’m stressed or feeling spiritually dry, I like to pull out old journals and reminisce about earlier times when I didn’t feel so stressed or I felt spiritually fruitful. They serve as good reminders that the season I’m in won’t last forever. But also, reading the journal entries from seasons when I felt spiritually dry can be equally instructive. Often, I can see God at work in my life, when I didn’t at the moment.

All that to say, keeping a record of your spiritual thoughts, insights, and feelings can serve as means to identify God’s faithfulness—regardless of the season.

And it also helps you avoid the mistakes of the past.


  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. What do the psalmists words at the end of Psalm 89 tell you about the psalmist?
  3. How have you seen God’s faithful when you’ve looked at your past?
  4. What mistakes or shortcomings from your past do you tend to repeat? How can you remember your history so you can avoid them?

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


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Death: The Way Of All Earth

Death often overshadows life.

Last Monday my mom would have been eighty-four. Using Joshua’s phrase, she went the “way of all earth” in 2003. I miss her—though I know she is in the arms of the One whom death can no longer touch. Before that, my wife lost her father in 2002 and then her step-mother in 2007. It’s been a tough decade.

Most of us have lost someone we love; and all of us eventually face—though reluctantly—the end of our own lives. Richard John Neuhaus wrote, “we are born toward death, and in each of our lives the work of dying is already underway.” Most of us work very hard to keep death’s shadow distant. I’m not speaking in the positive sense of staying safe and healthy. Rather I’m referring to how we deny and fear death.

Yet, as we will see in today’s readings, not everyone fears going “the way of all earth.”


Joshua 22:21-23:16
Luke 20:27-47
Psalm 89:14-37
Proverbs 13:17-19


Joshua 22:21-23:16. Joshua is making final preparations for Israel before his death. Unlike when Moses died, God has provided no new leader. So, Joshua concentrates on getting each tribe its inheritance and reminding them of their need to follow God and of God’s faithfulness. They are to be “very strong.” This strength is not in military might but rather in obedience to God.

Luke 20:27-47. The Sadducces and the Pharisees represented two different political, theological, and philosophical viewpoints. Both groups based their lives on the Law (the first five books of the Bible). But their interpretations varied vastly. The Sadduccees leaned more toward the belief we call “materialism” today. That means they largely believed only in the material world they could see and explain. Thus they didn’t believe in resurrection. What they had in common with the Pharisees—and us—is that they go to complicated lengths to prove their own view of life and struggle grasping God’s view.

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In the movie “Places in the Heart” Sally Field plays Edna Spalding whose husband is killed. It’s 1935 and Edna locked in undeniable grief lays her husband’s body on the dining room table to prepare him for burial. Eventually his coffin takes up the front room. No hospital, no funeral home, no distance. How gruesome. How real. How beautiful.

I must confess I prefer death, and other of life’s difficulties, keep its distance, in hospitals and funeral homes. But it seems our modern distance from death may have disabled us when dealing with it. Has this distance kept us from thinking about and understanding death, and life as well, especially from God’s point of view? I believe it has.

I would love to be able to face death with the nonchalance and faith Joshua did. But to do so I would have to, as Joshua did, walk with the reality of death—and God—in daily life. No easy task.

Jesus explains to the Sadduccees that death is not final and therefore life is more than putting time on the clock. God “is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.” Jesus claims that through him life can overshadow death. Turning Neuhaus’ phrase upside down, the work of living, not dying, should always be underway. Last Monday, in what we call life, my mom would have been eighty-four. In what we call death Jesus pronounces her ageless.


  1. What did you see and hear in today’s reading?
  2. Are there any links between these four readings?
  3. What other is God calling you to be strong in obedience to?
  4. How has God been there for you in your times of loss?

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

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Benevolent To A Fault

Four years ago, Charles Roberts stormed into an Amish one-room schoolhouse in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and shot 10 young girls, killing five. He then killed himself.

The thought of senselessly murdering defenseless pacifists still rattles me.

While garnering an outpouring of sympathy from around the world, the Amish community refused gifts of any kind unless they were also shared with the widow of Charles Roberts and their three children. Several families still mourning the loss of their children even found the strength to attend Roberts’ funeral.

“We forgive Charles Roberts,” the community announced to an astonished world.

Benevolent…to a fault?

Join me as we explore this closer in today’s reading.


Joshua 21:1-22:20
Luke 20:1-26
Psalm 89:1-13
Proverbs 13:15-16


Joshua 21. If you’re like me, you probably whizzed through this chapter. However, notice how proactive the Levites were, compared to the seven tribes who Joshua needed to prod into taking possession of their lands (Joshua 18:2-3). In this chapter we read about the towns the Levites were given, since they had no area they could call their own. Notice that the word “allotted” is used repeatedly. Scholars believe it shows up a lot (pardon the pun!) to emphasize that God assigned the towns (rather than Joshua). Interestingly enough, some of the towns were not yet conquered (like Gezer and Tanaach), so the Levites bore the responsibility of taking possession of them.

Joshua 22. Joshua said goodbye to the eastern tribes because they lived on the other side of the Jordan river. Because they were difficult to navigate, rivers formed natural barriers to communication.

In verses 9-20, the rest of Israel mobilizes forces to wage war against their brothers on the other side of the river because Israel was commanded by God to worship around the tabernacle. The New Bible Commentary points out the healthy way in which  the western tribes worked through the conflict:

  • they squarely addressed themselves to the problem, and did not sweep it under the rug (11–12a).
  • they took apostasy so seriously that they put purity above their own lives, not buying peace at any price (12b).
  • they sent their ablest leaders, the priest Phinehas who had shown himself zealous for the Lord in the episode at Baal Peor (Numbers 25:7), and ten chiefs representing all the tribes, to investigate the matter and possibly to restore the offenders, not acting rashly (13–14).
  • they addressed the perceived offence objectively as a breach of faith, an act of rebellion against God, not subjectively as a body-blow to their own egos (15–16).
  • they argued their case on the conviction that God punishes sin as displayed at Baal Peor (i.e. it left them with the seeds of historical guilt and the Lord’s plague, not on expediency—17).
  • they also argued on the conviction that the sin of some affects all, as seen at Baal Peor (17–18) and in the case of Achan (18, 20; see 7:1), and such corporate guilt was not something inconsequential to them.
  • they respected their brothers’ consciences and convictions (i.e. that eastern Israel was defiled because it lacked God’s holy sanctuary), not ruling their weak consciences out of court (19a; cf. Rom. 14:1–23).
  • they were willing to sacrifice some of their possessions to restore their brothers to a clean conscience and proper worship, not insisting on their proper interpretation of the law (19b).

Luke 20:1-26. In verses 20-26, Jesus’ detractors try to catch him either advocating revolution against the Roman authorities or encouraging accommodation with them. Again, Jesus outsmarts them. But often overlooked in this story is Jesus’ request to look at one of their denarius. By showing him a coin with Caesar’s image, the “religious” leaders were disobeying one of the Ten Commandments—“You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below” (Exodus 20:4). Because Caesar was considered a god, carrying a Roman coin was a violation. “Good” religious Jews carried locally-produced coins instead.

Psalm 89:1-13. In verses 5, 7 and 8, “heavenly beings” and “holy ones” likely refer to angels. In verse 10, “Rahab” isn’t the woman from Joshua 2. Rahab was known as a mythological sea monster, mentioned as well in Job 26:12 and Isaiah 51:9.

Proverbs 13:15. The phrase “good understanding” is confusing. Dictionaries translate it as “good sense.” The Message offers this for the passage: “Sound thinking makes for gracious living, but liars walk a rough road.”

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The Jewish leaders were constantly looking for ways to get Jesus in trouble. After navigating his way through their question regarding his authority, Jesus gave them a parable about the vineyard.

In Luke 20:9-19, Jesus tells the story of the owner of a vineyard who lives a long way from his property. Three times he sends a servant to bring back some of the produce, and three times the workers kill them. Finally, he sends his son, thinking they will respect him—and they kill him too.

In those days, landowners enjoyed a considerable amount of privilege. After the first servant was killed, the owner could have sent men to his property to kill the murderers. But he didn’t.

Jesus’ parable casts the owner as naïve at worst, and “strikingly benevolent” at best. Without a doubt, Jesus measured his words carefully to make his point.

We have a heavenly Father who loves us generously, benevolently, and extravagantly. When compared to his holiness and perfection, our menial sins are deserving of death.

Anymore, I avoid the word “deserve.” I don’t deserve “a break today.” I don’t deserve a vacation or a night out on the town. All I deserve is death and hell.

Sounds harsh, I know. But please understand, I’m not saying we’re worthless, but I am saying we’re unworthy. We’re worth an infinite amount to God because we’re his children, created in his image. That’s why he sent his son to die on the cross for us.

But I don’t think many of us give God the credit he deserves. He puts up with our moodiness, our self-absorption, our manipulation. Then when we apologize, he continues to forgive. Over and over.

Like the Amish community forgave the killer of their children, God forgave us for crucifying his son. Not only did he forgive us, but he loves us, accepts us, and yearns to spend eternity with us in heaven.

That’s what I call benevolent love!


  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. What does Jesus’ parable of the vineyard tell you about the heart of God?
  3. How have you experienced God’s benevolent love?

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

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