Monthly Archives: July 2010

Turning $45 into $200 million

Imagine turning a $45 garage sale purchase into $200 million. That’s what happened to Rick Norsigian not long ago. In 2000, he purchased a set of 65 black and white glass negatives. Suspecting they were worth more than $45, Norsigian spent parts of the next ten years researching famous photographers. To his astonishment, the glass negatives in his possession once belonged to the uber-famous nature photographer Ansel Adams.

“When I heard that [my purchase was worth] $200 million, I got a little weak,” the commercial painter from Fresno, California told CNN.com. Turning $45 into $200,000 is a rate of return of 444,444,334!

At times, a humble investment can reap enormous returns.

Join us for today’s Bible conversation as we discuss how.

CONGRATULATIONS!

Believe it or not, we’ve past the halfway point of our yearling journey through the Bible. Think about it: we are now almost 60% through reading the Bible in a year.

TODAY’S READING

2 Chronicles 29:1-31:21
Romans 14:1-15:22
Psalm 24:1-25:15
Proverbs 20:12-15

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

2 Chronicles 29:1-31:21. After the evil reign of his father King Ahaz, Hezekiah was a welcome contrast—and an able leader. Within a month of coming to power, Hezekiah immediately began his religious reform in Judah. The New Bible Commentary evaluates his reign:

Where Jotham was compared to Uzziah, and Uzziah to Amaziah (2 Chronicles 27:2; 26:4), Hezekiah is compared to David thirteen generations earlier (2), and from v 3 onwards his work plainly resembles Solomon’s.

After cleansing and then rededicating the temple, an enormous number of sacrifices were made. The sin offerings were intended to cleanse Judah from their past while the burnt offerings were intended to consecrate them in the future.

Then, Hezekiah invited their cousins in the northern kingdom of Israel to join them in worshiping God by celebrating the Passover. But notice: after their transgressions of the past, the people didn’t grovel before God. They celebrated the forgiveness he had given them. In fact, their celebration was so great that they decided to extend their celebration for another week!

The spiritual impact of Hezekiah—who wasn’t a priest—on Judah cannot be understated.

The message of today’s reading is this: it’s never too late to repent and start over in our relationship with God. The depths of his forgiveness are never exhausted.

And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people (2 Chronicles 30:20).

Romans 14:1-15:22. The beginning of chapter 14 addresses matters of conscience regarding beliefs and practices that aren’t necessarily addressed in Scripture. The message for all of us? Don’t be judgmental. This applies not only to how we act, but I would venture to say that it applies to how we feel toward people as well. The degree of liberty by which we live is a matter of conscience between us and God.

Some people think it’s okay to drink alcohol. Some don’t. Some people choose to homeschool their children. Others don’t. Some people prefer hymns, others prefer singing worship choruses in church. In this respect, God calls us to not only coexist, but accept one another without judgment.

Paul’s point is that we must be careful to avoid causing weak believers to stumble. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t at times offend the “sensibilities” of “strong” believers who are stuck in their ways and beliefs—especially if they push away the weak. Jesus was an equal opportunity offender of the Pharisee, Sadducees, and teachers of the Law. The same applies to Paul. But the plight of weak believers is different.

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification (Romans 14:19).

Psalm 24. This psalm was written to celebrate the return of the ark into the hands of Israel (see 1 Samuel 5-6 and 2 Samuel 6).

If you’ve found A Daily Bible Conversation helpful, share it with your friends! Forward your daily email or send them a link to the website: http://www.bibleconversation.com.

THE WORD MADE FRESH

In Psalm 25, David offers us some great insights into hearing from God. Two phrases in the psalm particularly spoke to me:

[God] guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way (verse 9).

When we’re bull-headed, defensive, or convinced that we’re right—which are really expressions of pride—we limit God’s willingness to guide us and teach us his way.

The Lord confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them (verse 14).

We looked at this at the beginning of the year but it bears repeating: To fear God means (according to my definition) to take God seriously. God isn’t going to waste his breath on people who won’t respond to him. He loves them, but why speak to them if they reserve the right to obey.

When we come to God with a humble heart, willing to accept whatever he tells us, and willing to respond in any way he requires, he will speak to us—even more so now, because he has given us his Holy Spirit.

An investment of a little humility reaps us enormous, even eternal, returns.

CONVERSATION STARTERS

  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading.
  2. Why would humility turn up the volume of God’s voice?
  3. Do you struggle with the idea of God speaking to you? Why or why not?
  4. Describe a time when you believe God spoke to you. What do you think contributed to your unique experience?

If you’re reading this blog on FaceBook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here.

www.bibleconversation.com

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

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Civil Obedience..Or Disobedience?

On April 29, 1992, a jury acquitted four Los Angeles police officers for beating an African-American man named Rodney King. This, despite film footage showing the merciless beating. He had been arrested following a high speed chase.

African-Americans around the country were justifiably incensed. But the African-American community in south-central Los Angeles came completely unglued and a three day riot ensued.

At the time, I was living in Pasadena, California (a suburb of Los Angeles) attending Fuller Theological Seminary. I’ll never forget walking to my apartment and seeing smoke billowing out of the city. It was like a forest fire in the middle of LA. So I gathered my family, and for the next two days, we locked ourselves in our apartment.

I’ll save my stories for another day, but twice that weekend, my life was in danger.

While holed up in our apartment, I realized how fragile any system of government is. For three days, we basically had no protection from law enforcement. Chaos ruled.

When enough people get fed up with their system of government, they can overthrow it. Quite easily, actually.

But as long as they obey their governing authorities, everything holds together. This is good…most of the time. But what do we do when a system of government conflicts with the conscience of a normal, healthy follower of Jesus and Scripture?

Please join us in our daily Bible conversation.

TODAY’S READING

2 Chronicles 26:1-28:27
Romans 13:1-14
Psalm 23:1-6
Proverbs 20:11

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

2 Chronicles 26:1-28:27. Although his name is fairly obscure, Uzziah was one of Judah’s greatest kings. The New Bible Commentary explains:

Uzziah was a greater king than either Joash or Amaziah. History tells us that he and his northern contemporary Jeroboam II, profiting from a decline in the fortunes of the super-power Assyria, gave to both kingdoms real prosperity and power.

But his prowess to rule also became his undoing. Uzziah’s downfall? Pride. His success as a king led him to believe that he could play the role of high priest. A great error in judgment which led to him being stricken with leprosy—and exclusion from the rest of Israel for the remainder of his life.

Jotham followed his father Uzziah. He was the first thoroughly righteous king in 170 years. His son, Ahaz, on the other hand, was as evil as his father was good. The depths of Ahaz’s depravity were so great that even when he was in severe distress, he didn’t turn to God (2 Chronicles 28:22-23). In the end, he shuttered the temple and erected altars to other gods “at every street corner.” It’s obvious that the people of Judah weren’t impressed by Ahaz because they refused to bury him in the tombs of Israel.

Romans 13:1-14. In verses 8-10, Paul explains how we fulfill the law: love your neighbor as yourself. The word “neighbor” is literally translated “nearby.” A neighbor would then be not only family, not only the people living next door, but every person in whom we come into contact: the waiter who gives poor service, the car mechanic who you suspect is ripping you off, and the homeless person on the street.

If you’ve found A Daily Bible Conversation helpful, share it with your friends! Forward your daily email or send them a link to the website: http://www.bibleconversation.com.

THE WORD MADE FRESH

I’ll be honest. I feel quite ambivalent about the first seven verses of Romans 13. In it, Paul tells us to submit to the governing authorities. When we rebel against them, we rebel against God. While I agree with the spirit of what Paul is saying, I also know the passage has been abused and misused for millennia.

Please excuse my recent World War II references, but the Dietrich Bonhoeffer biography I’m reading—which focuses on events from World War II—has greatly impacted the way I view the relationship between the church and the state.

As the Nazis came to power in the 1930s, the German church found themselves in a quandary. Do they discriminate against the Jews or stand against the state? In a culture that valued the importance of showing patriotism and support for one’s county, the church began to wilt.

Romans 13 became their justification for acceding power to the Nazis. Some people disagreed with the German government, but in the interest being good citizens, they gave in. “We may not agree with the Nazis,” they claimed, “but God calls us to submit to the authorities.”

On one level, the German church was correct. Submitting to the authorities over us is a biblical principle, supported elsewhere in Scripture. We need laws and people need to obey them. We need law enforcement or we would live in anarchy and chaos.

At the same time, when the early Christians began experiencing persecution from the Jewish authorities and were forbidden from sharing their faith, Peter replied, “We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:29).

What does this tell us?

  1. God is our authority and is worthy of our obedience.
  2. We obey God when we obey the authorities he has placed over us—from governmental authorities to our supervisors at work.
  3. When the authorities over us conflict with our understanding of Scripture, our duty is to obey God rather than those authorities.

Obviously, people have used this as justification for doing some pretty stupid things. However, I see no other way to live. This defies formulas because all of us must live with a conscience in the sight of God. Living like this forces us to live by faith, because we must constantly examine our hearts to weed out rebellion toward our government and God.

But rather than go any further, I’d like to hear back from you.

How far should we go in obeying our authorities?

How far should we go in obeying God?

Let’s get the conversation started.

CONVERSATION STARTERS

  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. When have you encountered a conflict between your beliefs and the authorities over you?
  3. How did you respond? What did you learn?
  4. What does it mean for you to “clothe yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ”?

If you’re reading this blog on FaceBook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here.

www.bibleconversation.com

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

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Sacrificing Truth On The Altar Of Relevance

In the 1930s and 40s, Germany experienced a great upheaval in their values and beliefs. Following in step with their leader Adolf Hitler, the German church attempted to make the Bible relevant to the Nazi party’s beliefs. So, they pledged their allegiance to Hitler, forcibly shut the mouths of their detractors, kicked out any Jews who were members of their churches, and tailored their beliefs into something acceptable to mainstream German society.

In the process, they sacrificed not only the Jews, but their faith as well.

Join me as we explore the dangers of relevance.

TODAY’S READING

2 Chronicles 24:1-25:28
Romans 12:1-21
Psalm 22:19-31
Proverbs 20:8-10

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

2 Chronicles 24:1-25:28. Joash’s reign can best be summarized by 2 Chronicles 24:2: “Joash did what was right in the eyes of the Lord all the years of Jehoiada the priest.” After Jehoida passed away, he no longer had an anchor to prevent him from being carried away by the values of the surrounding nations.

Then we read, “After the death of Jehoiada, the officials of Judah came and paid homage to the king, and he listened to them” (2 Chronicles 24:17). Who were the “officials of Judah”? Probably holdovers from evil Queen Athaliah’s influence.

Following in his father Joash’s footsteps, Amaziah started strong but finished weak.

Romans 12:1-21. For the first 11 chapters, Paul has constructed a theological framework upon the vast mercy and grace of God. We’re messed up, but Jesus died to free us from the bondages of death from sin. He even concludes chapter 11 with a benediction.

Then, beginning with chapter 12, he instructs his readers (and us) about how to live it.

If you’ve found A Daily Bible Conversation helpful, share it with your friends! Forward your daily email or send them a link to the website: http://www.bibleconversation.com.

THE WORD MADE FRESH

Relevance is overrated.

Repeatedly in the Old Testament, we read of kings who led Israel into the sins of the surrounding nations. Joash and Amaziah included.

In the attempt to be relevant—you could say they wanted to be like the surrounding nations—kings like Joash and Amaziah didn’t abandon the faith of their fathers. They simply added to it the beliefs and practices of the surrounding nations.

Paul wrote in Romans 12:2, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world.” J.B. Phillips translated this verse to say, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold.”

Every day, I feel the pressure of society trying to squeeze me into its own mold. As a pastor, I want people to meet Jesus. As a human being, I want to be accepted. So, I find myself struggling to avoid the example of many of the Old Testament kings who sacrificed truth on the altar of relevance.

The fact is, offering my body as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1) doesn’t bode well in our society. It implies that I agree to live within certain constraints and it means that I still believe in sin (following the example of Paul). People may call me intolerant and narrow. That’s okay. As we read today, believing in truth and absolutes can even cost us our lives—as it did for Zechariah in 2 Chronicles 24:20-22.

So what am I trying to say?

At the moment, it seems to me that churches and well-meaning believers are trying to find ways of be relevant in the world. In my home city of Denver, I’ve seen numerous churches emerge that have taken relevance to heart. But in the process, it seems to me that they’ve sacrificed truth on their altars of relevance.

My friends, please avoid the errors of Joash and Amaziah.

Absolutes still exist.

Hell does, too.

Sin still separates us from God.

The Bible doesn’t teach tolerance. Respect, yes. Love, yes. But tolerance, no.

Jesus is still the only way to God.

And after three thousand years, relevance is still overrated.

CONVERSATION STARTERS

  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. In what ways does the world try to squeeze you into its own mold?
  3. What are the non-negotiables in your faith?

If you’re reading this blog on FaceBook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here.

www.bibleconversation.com

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

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Was Hitler a Great Leader?

“Hitler was too a great leader,” one of my high school students argued. “Look how many people followed him,” he continued.

The high school student I was arguing with was intelligent, persuasive, and right, at least in part. He was not using the word “great’ as in exemplary but rather in great consequences. Leaders have people follow.

I, however, was not willing to concede his point for two reasons. First, I was older and supposed to be wiser. Second, I didn’t want him to be right. As an idealist, I hold ideas (and the people who espouse them) to high standards. For me, even today, the idea of leadership must encompass more than having people follow you, especially if where you lead them is into disaster.

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

TODAY’S READING (click here to view today’s reading online)

2 Chronicles 21:1-23:21

Romans 11:13-36

Psalm 22:1-18

Proverbs 20:7

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

2 Chronicles 21:1-23:21: This chapter highlights the sad truth that if humans do evolve, we do not in the areas of morality and wisdom. Ahab, and all the kings like him, who led God’s people to “prostitute themselves” to other gods have failed horribly, personally and as leaders.

Jehosaphat succeeds by following the God of David. But Jehosaphat’s son decides to follow Ahab and not his father. And he repeats the evil and failure of Ahab. What is it in us humans that tells us to choose against God?

Romans 11:13-36: What a powerful description of grace. God breaks off grafts in the branches not because of who they are but because of who He is.

This chapter lays out several of Scripture’s most thorny ideas: election, grace, and God’s sovereignty. Of the three, people in the today struggle most with sovereignty. We are so steeped in the ideas of freedom and choice that we cannot imagine a God who, because he created all, sustains all, and is over all, has the last word. We want to argue, like we do with our parents, our friends, our leaders. But God has the last word–and that Word is good.

I believe if more of us came to a place of seeing and believing and understanding God as sovereign, election, grace, and the other thorny issues we get impaled on would clear up, at least a little.

If you’ve found A Daily Bible Conversation helpful, share it with your friends. Forward your daily email or send them a link to the website: www.bibleconversation.com.

THE WORD MADE FRESH

Charles Lynch, a Quaker leader in America’s Revolutionary War, had his name turned into a verb. Though he hung no one, Lynch’s brand of vigilante justice against British Loyalists became known as passing “lynch law.” Eventually this verb, “to lynch” evolved into a term used for hanging runaway slaves and–horribly–the mob hangings of blacks in the early 1900s. How awful would it be if your name became a verb describing something so ugly?

Past and current history is riddled with “leaders” such as Lynch, Hitler, Custer, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of Iraq, city counsel members, and even countless and nameless parents who have led people nowhere good (I am not comparing their moral standing or affect but the end result of landing people in a proverbial ditch).

Today’s reading in Chronicles repeats a sad history: God tells Jehoram he has “walked in the ways” of past evil kings and therefore “led” God’s people toward destruction.

From this we can see my idealistic definition of leadership as only directing people to good and great things does not stack up. My high school friend was right. Hitler was a great–but evil–leader. Tragically many people followed him.

Another problem with my naive definition of leadership is that it leaves no room for the consequences of bad leadership. If I say bad leaders are no leaders at all, then they escape the heavier responsibility God seems to lay on all leaders.

One of God’s constant refrains (I wonder if God tired of saying it) to the kings chronicled in this section of Scripture has been, “you caused” the people to sin. God seems to believe that leaders are responsible for what their followers do and do not do.

This truth holds today as well. Political leaders, parents, pastors, and employers will be held responsible for the things they advocated that are destructive as well as the things they did not stand up against.

As a pastor, in the day we see Jesus as he is and he shows us who we really are, I will stand next to my people. I will have a part (small most likely) in their triumphs and tragedies, in their stumbling, in their belief and unbelief. What I do and say and believe has consequences, not just for me, potentially for you as well. Then each of us will pass into eternal grace or judgement depending on which we have opened our hands and hearts to.

What makes for a great leader? A full definition won’t fit here. But, as a leader, I want my epitaph to be the opposite to the last words written about Jehoram, “he passed away to no one’s regret.”

Idealistic or not, that, in my mind, is what makes a great leader.

  1. Have you ever followed a great leader?
  2. Are you a leader? Of what and who?

If you’re reading this blog on Facebook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here. www.bibleconversation.com.

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

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An Army Of Choirboys!?!

If you live in the United States, you’re probably as worn out by our overseas wars as me.

But how would you respond if you learned that our military tried a new approach. Instead of sending the infantry into battle, they were sending in the Army choir?

You’d laugh, wouldn’t you?

You might want to reconsider your response.

Please join us as we discuss this on today’s daily Bible conversation.

TODAY’S READING

2 Chronicles 19:1-20:37
Romans 10:14-11:12
Psalm 21:1-13
Proverbs 20:4-6

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

2 Chronicles 19:1-20:37. The beginning of chapter 19 offers us something that its parallel in 2 Kings does not: God (through Jehu) chastises King Jehoshaphat for making an alliance with evil King Ahab. Note to self: be discriminating about the alliances you make with people who have different values than yours.

Despite his lack of judgment concerning Ahab, King Jehoshaphat impresses me by the way he called the people of Judah to seek God’s intervention when they were about to be attacked.

God’s answer? “The battle is not yours, but God’s” (2 Chronicles 20:15)

Romans 10:14-11:12. After explaining how we can be eternally forgiven and saved, Paul drives home an important point: this is all good and fine, but it doesn’t do the world any good unless we share it.

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent?

Romans 10:14–15

He further explains that “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). In an age where sharing our faith is politically incorrect, Paul reminds us that people don’t find Jesus on their own. They need you and me.

Then he quotes from Isaiah 52:7, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” The message God has given us isn’t a message of condemnation, it’s good news! Through Jesus, God has made salvation available to everyone.

If you’ve found A Daily Bible Conversation helpful, share it with your friends! Forward your daily email or send them a link to the website: http://www.bibleconversation.com.

THE WORD MADE FRESH

Judah was on the verge of being attacked. Instead of rallying the troops, King Jehoshaphat called his subjects together to seek God. Then, after conferring together, they chose what may be the most unconventional approach to warfare in world history.

At the head of his troops, Jehoshaphat sent a choir of men singing praises to God.

Bible scholars don’t know what to do with this passage because it attributes too much “magical” power to the men’s songs. Believe it or not, most Bible scholars find it hard to acknowledge the supernatural power of God.

But not me.

I’m always on the lookout for spiritual formulas because they not only place God in a box, but they also reduce him into a manageable deity whom we think we can control.

But I do think Jehoshaphat and the people of Judah were on to something.

Something powerful takes place when we choose to praise God with our lips and in our hearts.

  • Depending on the translation you read, Psalm 22:3 tells us that God inhabits the praises of his people.
  • Praise brings our perspective into alignment with God’s. I blogged about this on April 1. Look for my comments on Psalm 73 in “A Matter Of Perspective” [https://bibleconversation.wordpress.com/2010/04/01/the-best-business-perk/]
  • Praise repels the forces of darkness. Would you like to listen to someone extolling the glories of Satan? Of course not! And neither do the forces of darkness. Praise is akin to turning a giant spotlight on the prince of darkness.
  • When Paul and Silas were beaten and thrown in jail, they prayed and sang hymns to God. And what happened? Their chains came loose and their prison doors swung wide open.

I think I see a pattern emerging!

And if you read the rest of Jehoshaphat’s story, you know that God miraculously delivered the armies of Judah—and they didn’t even lift a sword in battle.

If you’re facing a difficult or painful challenge right now, perhaps the best action you can take is to praise God.

“Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever.”

2 Chronicles 20:21

CONVERSATION STARTERS

  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. When you face a challenge, what is your natural response? Why does it come so naturally to you?
  3. Describe a time when you chose to voice your praise to God in the midst of a difficult situation. What happened? What did you learn?

If you’re reading this blog on FaceBook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here.

www.bibleconversation.com

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

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Are You a Christian Atheist?

I grew up in a family that didn’t believe in God. But we weren’t atheists. That’s not what I mean by the word “believe.” We simply never talked or thought about God. If we had talked about God, I imagine all of us would have said there was such a thing as God. I know I would have.

But, again, God never came up. Instead we rode our horses on Saturdays and Sundays (Boy, was that fun. I remember going to worship twice. Boy, that was not fun) and the rest of the week my mom and dad worked, we went to school, played, tried to avoid chores and homework, and paid less attention to God than the air we breathed. Is that what it means to believe?

Craig Groeschel, the pastor of the church (Lifechurch.tv) my oldest daughter is involved in, explores that very question in his book “The Christian Atheist: Believing in God but Living as if He Doesn’t Exist.” Today we’ll ask the same question: what does it mean to believe?

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

TODAY’S READING (click here to view today’s reading online)

2 Chronicles 17-18:34

Romans 9:25-10:13

Psalm 20:1-9

Proverbs 20:2-3

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

2 Chronicles 17-18:34: Ahab asks 400 prophets if he should go to war. Somehow Jehosaphat knows they are not telling the truth but only saying what Ahab wants them to say. Michiah says he will only say what God tells him and then, presumably in fear for his life, backs down and says what Ahab wants to hear. But Ahab knows he is lying.

Most of the time we know the hard truths God wants us to live by. We just hope others will tell us the opposite in order to ease our minds.

Proverbs 20:2-3: In the time the book of Proverbs was written–and more so–the time in which proverbs were developed–few people were able to read or write. It was a time of oral communication. Therefore, these “wisdom sayings” that were to be applied to everyday life, were formulated in such a way that those who were not literate could memorize them and readily use them. They were to be carried in our minds and hearts constantly.

If you’ve found A Daily Bible Conversation helpful, share it with your friends. Forward your daily email or send them a link to the website: www.bibleconversation.com.

THE WORD MADE FRESH

Is believing in God more than intellectual assent? More than knowing certain ideas about God? Paul, in this section of his letter to the believers in Rome, seems to indicate so. “For it is with your heart you believe and are justified,” he writes.

Yes, intellectually understanding that Jesus was crucified, dead, buried and resurrected is an essential ingredient to belief. But Paul says that we believe this information with more than our minds. Our hearts are crucial.

In Paul’s day reference to the heart, however, did not indicate emotions only. “Follow your heart,” we say today. By which we mean, “Follow your gut feelings. Don’t let your mind talk you out of it.”

Heart meant center. The center of ancient Greek cities was called the cardia, the heart. The Cardia is where people gathered, where the theater, the temple, the market, the government, and the businesses were located. All life emanated from this center.

Thus, Paul expects belief in Jesus to emanate from the center of each of us. The heart in this ancient understanding then is the place where intellect, emotion, and volition combine. Paul thinks belief in Jesus comes from, and moreover impacts, a combination of our thoughts, feelings, and actions. Like the cardia in those ancient cities, our heart belief in Jesus should influence our relationships, entertainment, spirituality, shopping, politics, and work.

Sadly modern belief in God is largely relegated to intellectual assent. Around 90% of Americans say they believe in God, which means, like the family of my childhood, they think there is such a thing as God. But this idea of a God has little significance in life.

This anemic definition of “belief” is not restricted to God, however. People say they “believe” in UFOs, ghosts, chocolate, and life after death. Yet, for most, these beliefs change nothing, unless you glimpse a strange light in the sky, are alone in a dark, creaking house, or live next to a Chocolate Factory. But God is more than a ghost or ticket to the afterlife.

I must confess I often exist as if God doesn’t. And it’s my job to believe. Still I worry, thinking it (whatever it is) all depends on me; fear too often rules my mind and heart; I can spend an entire day and rarely let the thought of Jesus cross my mind. Yet, I yearn for a relationship with Jesus that is as real as I have with my wife, children, and friends. By God’s grace that kind of belief/relationship does come. When it does, it is because my whole self believes: mind, heart, and soul. In these times, Jesus ceases to be an idea to think about, or a historical figure to argue over, and becomes One living in me and walking alongside me. Then my worries and fears flea. And I find myself, like some crazy man, talking to Someone no one else can see. And I smile, because suddenly I know I believe.

  1. Have you ever acted like a Christian Atheist? If so how?
  2. How do these four reading connect?

If you’re reading this blog on Facebook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here. www.bibleconversation.com.

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

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Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Adolf Hitler, and YOU!

Alexander the Great once climbed to the top of a mountain to survey his kingdom. Standing on the peak of the mountain, he realized that his kingdom extended in every direction, as far as the eye could see. When he realized this, he broke down in tears.
“He wept with sorrow,” Plutarch wrote, “because there were no more worlds to conquer.”

Alexander the Great’s desire for total control of the civilized world, however, never quite materialized. The world has witnessed the failed attempts of people like him, who sought to rule the world:

  • Napoleon
  • Benito Mussolini
  • Adolf Hitler

Although you and I might not desire to rule the world, we likely desire to rule our worlds—which brings us into the uncomfortable company of the aforementioned men.

Please join us in today’s reading as we explore this further.

TODAY’S READING

2 Chronicles 11:1-16:14
Romans 8:26-9:24
Psalm 18:37-19:14
Proverbs 19:27-20:1

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

2 Chronicles 11:1-16:14. As we begin reading the succession of Judah’s kings, the Chronicler strives to drive home a point: obedience to God brings blessing, disobedience to God leads to punishment. But deeper still, we see the heart of a God who loves his children and is willing to forgive our foolish pursuits and fruitless efforts when we seek other gods and then repent.

Other important lessons become evident in 2 Chronicles:

  • Arrogance drives kings and countries away from God, but humility and repentance draw them toward God.
  • God calls his people to relying on him to fight the battle—regardless of the size of the opposition.
  • Victory in battle only comes from the Lord.

Most importantly, we see the importance of seeking the Lord. In fact, the word “seek” (and derivatives of the word) seems to be the Chronicler’s favorite word.

[Rehoboam] did evil because he had not set his heart on seeking the Lord (2 Chronicles 12:14).

But in their distress they turned to the Lord, the God of Israel, and sought him, and he was found by them (2 Chronicles 15:4).

If there is a theme verse from these four chapters, it would probably be 2 Chronicles 16:9:

For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.

This hold true to us today as it did back then.

Psalm 18:37-19:14. Following the theme of 2 Chronicles, notice in Psalm 18 how David consistently credits God with delivering him from his enemies.

Proverbs 19:27-20:1. In yesterday’s reading from 2 Chronicles, we witnessed the arrogance of Rehoboam soon after he came to power. The words his father Solomon wrote in Proverbs 19:27 were obviously ignored: “Stop listening to instruction, my son, and you will stray from the words of knowledge.”

The challenge I continually face is living with a humble heart so I can listen to instruction.

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THE WORD MADE FRESH

It seems to me that most people worship at the altar of control. We may not desire to rule the world like the tyrants I mentioned earlier, but we hate the feeling of being out of control—which is just another way of saying that we want to be in control.

In Romans 8-9, Paul begins describing God’s control over the world and over us. Some of what you read may have even made you feel uncomfortable.

God hardened Pharaoh’s heart? He can’t do that?

Why would God hold me accountable for my sin if he’s ultimately in control?

Some people can’t stomach the idea of God being in ultimate control of their lives.

But let’s take a closer look at how this works.

Yesterday, we read that the Holy Spirit and Jesus live in us. Today we read that the Holy Spirit and Jesus intercede for us to the Father. These truths are life-changing.

Because the Holy Spirit and Jesus live in us, they understand the depths of our weaknesses and sin—yet they also pray and act on our behalf. They know intimately what is best for us…and then they act upon it. That’s why Paul can say that God works everything—EVERYTHING!—for the good of those who love him.

Why would he do this for us? Because he loves us!

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Romans 8:32

If God provided the means for us to receive eternal life, why wouldn’t also he give us what we need in this mortal life?

While God has given us a free will, and we willingly stray from him, he has surrounded us with himself, in order to guide us.

If God wasn’t in ultimate control, then we could be separated from the love of Christ. But nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).

The challenge on our part is to believe it.

In God’s ultimate control and in God’s all-encompassing love.

CONVERSATION STARTERS

  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. Is it difficult to believe that God is in ultimate control of your life? What does this reveal about your view of God’s character?
  3. If you truly believed God is love, would it make it easier for you to accede to him control?

If you’re reading this blog on FaceBook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here.

www.bibleconversation.com

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

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The Antidote To The Flesh-Eating Virus

Twelve years ago, my oldest daughter Anna was diagnosed with strep throat. Nothing out of the ordinary. But before it was treated, she coughed into her hand and scratched a mosquito bite on the lower part of her leg.

The next day, her bite looked a little swollen. My wife Kelley expressed concern about it, but we decided to give it one more day before doing anything about it.

The next morning, Anna’s leg was swollen from her ankle to her knee. It was obvious that something was wrong, so we rushed to the hospital. I won’t go into detail, but that was probably the worst day of our lives—that same day our baby Allie came down with an ear infection that burst her eardrum and Kelley miscarried our third child.

When we brought Anna into the children’s ward, the doctors looked extremely concerned. They began pumping her body with antibiotics, but none of them were working.

“We have one more antibiotic we want to try,” the doctor reluctantly confessed. “It’s extremely strong, but nothing else has been effective. If this doesn’t work and the infection reaches her hip, we’ll be forced to amputate her leg.”

By that point, the infection was a mere two inches away.

The doctors went to work on her, and miraculously, the antibiotic worked. One hundred years ago, she would have died.

In the midst of the crisis, the doctors told us that Anna was fighting a derivative of the flesh-eating virus. When she coughed into her hand, some of the strep infection entered her leg.

Like that flesh-eating virus, all of us fight our sinful nature—which, coincidentally, Scripture calls our “flesh.”

If you struggle with habitual sins, or if you can readily see evidence of your sinful nature at work in your life and you want the antidote, then you’ll want to join us in today’s daily Bible conversation.

TODAY’S READING

2 Chronicles 8:11-10:19
Romans 8:9-25
Psalm 18:16-36
Proverbs 19:26

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

2 Chronicles 8:11-10:19. In today’s reading, Solomon’s life comes to an end. Again, the Chronicler’s intent was to portray Solomon as the second part of a double dynasty that demonstrated God’s blessing to nations who served Yahweh.

After Solomon’s son Rehoboam comes to power, it becomes obvious that Israel’s extravagant wealth was earned on the shoulders of the common people. “Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you,” the people told him (2 Chronicles 10:4). Rather than lighten up on his subjects, Rehoboam follows the foolish advice of his friends and threatens to cast an even heavier hand than his father. Because of his arrogance, Rehoboam lost most of the kingdom.

While it’s easy criticize “foolish” Rehoboam, I must admit that I share a lot in common with him. In my twenties I was pretty cocky. All too often our arrogance clouds our judgment.

Besides, what can you expect from a man who grew up with ridiculous wealth? He was likely out of touch with the people…unlike Jeroboam (for more on his background, read 1 Kings 11:26-40).

Romans 8:9-25. This is one of those passages that is best read slowly so you can glean everything you can out of it.

If you’ve found A Daily Bible Conversation helpful, share it with your friends! Forward your daily email or send them a link to the website: http://www.bibleconversation.com.

THE WORD MADE FRESH

All too often I forget who I am. When I mess things up, I too easily look at myself in the mirror and say, Mike, you’re such a screw-up. You’ll never get it together.

At one point in my life, I thought I was a pretty good person, but then the pendulum swung and I readily identified with Romans 1-3. While the first three chapters of Romans are true, they aren’t the last word on who we are.

In Romans 8, Paul makes a pretty bold statement: If the Spirit of God lives in you, then you aren’t controlled by your sinful nature (verse 9).

Don’t feel like it? It doesn’t matter. Regardless of how you feel, it doesn’t change this fact. The deepest part of you isn’t even you—the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ now live in you.

Paul didn’t write these words to a group of pastors—as if they were immune to the clutches of sin. He wrote it to everyone who follows Jesus.

The antidote to breaking the death-giving virus that ravages our souls is to believe that the deepest part of us isn’t our sin. The deepest part of us is Jesus, who, by the power of the Holy Spirit (who also lives in us), breaks our bondage to sin.

But God also wants us to cooperate with him. Paul tells us that we have an “obligation” to live according to the Spirit (verse 12).

So how do we deal with our sinful tendencies? Paul tells us to put them to death (verse 13). We must treat sin like a flesh-eating virus. We must be violent in dealing with it. Remove its influences. Choke it until it suffocates. Sounds violent, doesn’t it? Absolutely.

Nothing good results from our cooperation with sin. But the good news is, God has given us the antidote: his son Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit.

I encourage you to meditate on the fact that if you have chosen to follow Jesus, you now have the antidote to your fight against the ravages of sin.

CONVERSATION STARTERS

What spoke to you in today’s reading?

If you belong to Jesus, then sin no longer has power over you. Is that hard to believe? Why?

If you’re reading this blog on FaceBook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here.

www.bibleconversation.com

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

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The Trouble with Ted Haggard

I don’t know Ted Haggard. I know about him, at least what I’ve read and heard about him, which is not good. Haggard, a nationally recognized pastor, lost his pastorate after it was revealed that he was using illegal drugs while also participating in a homosexual affair.

This was heartbreaking and destructive enough. What troubles me even more, however, is the unnoticed root that nourished these more obvious destructive behaviors: hiddenness.

I’m not sure anyone really knew or knows Ted Haggard–not his colleagues, not his ex-congregation, not his wife, maybe even not Ted himself. This distance from others, this invisibility from himself created an alternate universe in which he could live disconnected from what he told himself and others he believed and lived for.

Unfortunately Haggard is not the first nor the last who will struggle with a self imposed and self deceiving hiddenness.

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

TODAY’S READING (click here to view today’s reading online)

2 Chronicles 6:12-8:10

Romans 7:14-8:8

Psalm 18:1-15

Proverbs 19:24-25

If you’ve found A Daily Bible Conversation helpful, share it with your friends. Forward your daily email or send them a link to the website: www.bibleconversation.com.

THE WORD MADE FRESH

We all wear masks. We all play roles and have secrets. This is part of the human condition. The danger comes when our masks grow permanently attached to our faces and we no longer recognize ourselves in the mirror, or when we award ourselves the Oscar for a role deceptively played.

I believe this was (is) at the heart of the Haggard ordeal. He compartmentalized himself and no one, except God, knew the real Ted. I don’t mean that only in the negative sense. It’s like being trapped too long in one of those halls of mirrors at an amusement park. Soon you can’t discern the real you. Am I the angry one? The sad one? The kind one? The evil one? You turn circles frantically. You lose yourself. You fall to the floor exhausted. You need help.

In that moment you need someone who knows you intimately, someone with a foundation in reality, someone who can take you by the hand and lead you out to truth.

Facing the possibility of losing himself Paul cries out, “I do not do the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep doing. . . . Who will rescue me?”

Notice how public Paul is about his continual failure. He knows how dangerous it is believe your own good and bad press. He knows it is not enough to admit our faults secretly to ourselves or ostensibly to God alone. Paul is honest with himself, his trusted friends in his faith community, and with his God. All three points of contact bring focused truth and freedom into our lives. This authenticity is the antidote to our destructive tendency toward hiddenness.

I know I lean toward that dark and deadly hiddenness I believe Ted Haggard fell into. And I believe with all my heart that when you and I and Ted Haggard let God and those he calls to walk our night roads with us into those dark places, the light of truth comes on and we can discover that, though we are good and evil all wrapped together, there is rescue and redemption in Christ.

  1. How does the Ted Haggard story make you feel?
  2. Which reading spoke most clearly to you?

If you’re reading this blog on Facebook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here. www.bibleconversation.com.

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

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Les Mis: Are You One of the Miserable Ones?

Jean’s stomach ached as he stared at the loaf of bread in the window. The bread was not braided or beautiful or painted golden with butter. Worth only a few cents, it was a plain, hard, day-old lump of baked flour, yeast, and water. Unable to control himself, he smashed the glass, grabbed the bread, and ran. Jean was the only source of income for his sister and her two young children and they were starving.

No matter. Jean broke the law; he knew it; the police knew it; the judge knew it. Nineteen punishing years later, he walked free from his physical prison only to find he was still captive, now and forever a convict with his conscience and the law constantly reminding him of how far he had fallen and how despicable he had become. Jean Valjean, the sullied hero in Victor Hugo’s powerful (if a tad long) novel, Les Miserables, was desperately in need of a second chance, a new life.

In a way Jean Valjean is me and–you. Read on to find whence Jean Valjean’s and our freedom comes.

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

TODAY’S READING (click here to view today’s reading online)

2 Chronicles 4:1-6:11

Romans 7:1-13

Psalm 17:1-15

Proverbs 19:22-23

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

2 Chronicles 4:1-6:11: Someone once said, God is big enough to fill the universe and small enough to live in our hearts. The chronicler describes how Solomon builds a house for this uncontainable God. God cannot be contained in even the grandest of temples–and Solomon’s was grand–yet “the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God.”

God so loves us he will condescend, lower himself, to be present in a mere building. Remarkably rather than see this as a miraculous gift, we set snares and try to trap God in our temples, churches, programs, liturgies, and lives. Oh how foolish we are.

If you’ve found A Daily Bible Conversation helpful, share it with your friends. Forward your daily email or send them a link to the website: www.bibleconversation.com.

THE WORD MADE FRESH

Though released from prison, Jean Valjean finds no peace. No inn will house or feed him. The police hound him. Angry, hungry, and seemingly doomed, he stumbles into the home of Catholic Bishop Myierl, who feeds him and gives him free run of his home. In payment, Jean Valjean steals the Bishop’s silverware, leaving only two silver candle sticks. The police catch him with the silver. A second offense is punishable by death. The police bring him to the Bishop to confirm the theft.

Unbelievably, the Bishop claims the silverware was a gift to Jean Valjean and chastises him for leaving the candle sticks behind. Jean Valjean walks free, silver and all, this time with the ability to reinvent himself. Using the silver, he becomes wealthy and gives to the poor endlessly. But Inspector Javier recognizes him and works to expose him and eventually ruins Jean Valjean’s new life–on the surface. But Jean Valjean has been transformed. He is no longer the convict Javier knew, but rather the near saint the Bishop invited him to become.

Below the surface of Les Miserables, Victor Hugo has buried deep theological truths. Like Jean Valjean, our sins set us at odds with the law and ourselves. But in Christ (the Bishop) grace intervenes and gives us the gift of a second chance. Unfortunately the law (Javier) hounds us, trying to convince us our debt is unpaid. But God’s grace is a hound as well, chasing us down with a terrible love.

Our choice is the same as Jean Valjean’s: Live in the reality of God’s gift of our undeserved freedom, despite who the law says we were. Or turn from grace and allow ourselves to be re-imprisoned by the shadow of guilt and shame.

Like Jean Valjean, I am often haunted by ghosts from my past. Small, inconsequential ghosts, such as the time in second grade I pulled a chair out from under a cute girl, flutter at my ankles. Soaring specters, ugly, destructive attitudes and actions I dare not name here, also seek to envelop me and smother my soul. But ghosts are not real. My reality is in Christ. I am new, free, born-again.

Victor Hugo tells a story of Paul’s message in Romans 7: “So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God.”

In Christ we are free indeed.

  1. Which reading spoke to you and why?
  2. Do you live more often in God’s freedom or the law’s tyranny?

If you’re reading this blog on Facebook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here. www.bibleconversation.com.

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

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