Monthly Archives: September 2010

Connecting Your Story to God’s Story

Monday April 17, 1978 “was extremely windy and cold.” At work “the wind blew me off a ladder” and we were finally forced to quit and go home. In 1978 I was staying with my younger brother, sleeping on his couch. I was a twenty-one year-old depressed high school drop out and confused carpenter.

The economy was in shambles and getting worse. The Denver building boom was about to bust. Life looked and felt as bleak as the spring weather, except that I had started dating this young red-headed college girl who loved God with all her heart. I know this because Monday April 17 was the day I first began journaling, recording in a yellow notebook my thoughts and feelings and experiences.

“All in all this has been a good day,” I wrote at the end of my second day’s entry.  “Jesus has been on my mind quite a bit. I hope He is there more tomorrow.”

Looking back on those first entries, I can see Jesus was not only in my mind but always there with me tomorrow and the next day and next day for more than thirty years now. I now know Jesus was always ahead of me writing the next part of the story, the next chapter of my life. My challenge has been to faithfullyu live that story and then record it.

For me journaling is a spiritual discipline that helps me know myself and connect with God. David too practiced this spiritual discipline.

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)

Isaiah 60:1-62:5

Philippians 1:27-2:18

Psalm 72:1-20

Proverbs 24:11-12


Philippians 1:27-2:18: This section of Paul’s letter holds one of the most beautiful lyrics and profound pieces of theology in all the New Testament. Chapter 2:6-11 is probably an ancient hymn or creed of the early church that proclaims the central truth of Christ’s incarnation, death, resurrection, and exaltation.

All four aspects of the truth of Christ’s life are woven together and one cannot exist without the other. Though many focus on the cross as God’s ultimate act of salvation, Christ’s death would not have been possible without his making himself nothing and coming to earth. Nor was his crucifixion extraordinary with out the resurrection. And his life overall was unremarkable without his death, resurrection and exaltation.

This means Christmas, Easter, and Ascension are equally holy, mysterious and powerful in God’s plan of salvation for each of us.

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David, King of Israel, journaled also, obviously more poetic, profound, and inspired than my efforts. Psalm 72 ends saying, “This concludes the prayers of David son of Jesse.” The first seventy-two psalms, almost half the book, therefore, are primarily David’s poems, songs, thoughts, questions, struggles, answers, and epiphanies.

I have often imagined David sitting under a purple sky caring for his sheep and pouring out his heart to God in poetry. Or pacing his throne room muttering his complaints against God. Then finally in his bed chamber refining his ancient journal entries and, with God’s hand on his quill, turning his life’s story into a poem that millions would read and be touched and encouraged by. In them we learn about his view of and love for God, his failing family, his leadership, his adultery, repentance, and through it all, his dependence on God. In these journal entries we see real life, lived with a real God. Before God touched us through David’s journal, I can imagine David, in a difficult day, rereading some of his entries and being given new strength, new insight, new courage through his own story.

I’m glad I recorded some of the raw and real things I did over the last thirty years. I’m not so sure I’m as brave as David to let anyone else read them. I wrote about my doubts, my lust, my faithfulness, my fears (lots of those), my friends, family, failures, my slow, sometimes painful, growth and my red-headed wife always showing me how better to love God.

My old journals carry my story and show how it connects to God’s: how God has walked beside me in it all. Just as God did with David.

Though the Psalms are beautiful, like my journal they are not sanitized. David’s psalms tell us we too can be real with God. And that when we are real with him we open ourselves up to his touch.

Journaling is not just a literary practice. It lets us tell our stories and lets us know our stories are connected to God’s story.

  1. Which passage spoke most to you?
  2. What did the four have in common?

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

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Glenn Beck (in the black trunks) versus Jim Wallis (also in the black trunks)

Jim Wallis

Glenn Beck

Conservative Fox TV commentator and rabble rouser Glenn Beck and liberal rabble rouser and Sojourners founder Jim Wallis recently faced off in a theological boxing match. Beck threw a right hook saying “social justice” and “economic justice” are code words for liberal wealth redistribution and that they are not biblical ideas. Wallis responded with a left undercut claiming social justice is core to Scripture and said Beck was “strange” or greedy.

It’s not a heavyweight bout, according to Peter Wehner. “Neither man will be mistaken for [theologian] Reinhold Niebuhr,” Wehner wrote. Now in the late rounds both men continue to throw punches but not land many.

It’s too bad though, because justice is a heavyweight issue, one that God seems very concerned about.

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)

Isaiah 57:15-59:21

Philippians 1:1-26

Psalm 71:1-24

Proverbs 24:9-10


Philippians 1:1-26: Some scholars consider Philippians a support thank you letter. The church in Philippi was close to Paul and supported him. He is now in prison and wants to reassure them their ministry to and through him was not in vain. “I will continue to rejoice for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus . . . Christ will be exalted in my body.”

Imagine how those friends of Paul mourned when he was eventually martyred. Imagine too how they rejoiced when they were reunited after death and they saw and heard how their care and friendship made an eternal difference. Today God uses your prayers, financial support, and love for friends in difficult callings and ministries. Be encouraged. Your “partnership in the gospel” is making an eternal difference too.

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Wallis and Beck: who wins the bout? Both and neither.

Speaking through Isaiah God tells us, “Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists.” Fasting is a valuable spiritual discipline that, with each hunger pain, reminds us of our need for God’s sustenance.  But in this passage it can also be a more general symbol of an empty spiritual belief that produces little or no true reliance on God or caring for one another.

The religious people in Isaiah’s day knew the right practices (worship, prayer, fasting, ritual cleanliness) a person who loved God and his neighbor was supposed to engage in. Too often, however, these practices were devoid of faith in action. And just like today they failed to grasp the heart of the issue.

“Is this not the kind of fasting I [God] have chosen:

to loose the chains of injustice

and untie the cords of the yoke

to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry

and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter?”

See! Social justice, Jim Wallis may claim. And it’s true. God wants our faith to translate into social justice for the poor and homeless and hungry. God has chosen to provide for the needs of others through us.

But what about breaking the yoke and freeing the oppressed? Beck might ask. True again. overdependence, the yoke, is the first step toward bondage and oppression whether that overdependence is fostered by family members, religious rules, the workplace, or governments. God wants no false provider–idol–or false provision to bind us and come between us and our True Provider.

What’s more, might it work this way? What if in sharing my food with the hungry, shelter with the homeless, and clothes with naked, I depend less on my own wealth and ability? Instead I must turn to God to provide what I gave away. I am fasting from my abundance and as I pour myself out, I am filled with faith.

So too the needy (of which I am one, just in a different way). They turn to God for provision and God’s provision comes without expectation of repayment through me–or you. Their fasting, their hunger, is filled and produces faith.

“Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;

you will cry for help, and he will say,

‘Here am I,’” saysGod to the hungry.

“And if you do away with the yoke of oppression,

with the pointing finger and malicious talk,

and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry

and satisfy the needs of the oppressed . . .

You will be like a well-watered garden

like a spring whose waters never fail,” God reminds the well fed.

We wish the world were black and white: Beck and Wallis. It’s not. But it’s not a forlorn, indistinct gray either. Fasting, giving, needing, praying in faith, whether expressed from the heights of God’s provision or the depths of our need is bright, colorful, alive. Faith, without which there is no making God smile, is what rich and poor, Beck and Wallis, me and you seem to need most. The good news is God has an endless supply of faith for us.

  1. Which passage spoke most to you?
  2. What did the four have in common?
  3. What spiritual practice fills you with the most faith?

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

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


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Are Christians Closet Militants?

In 2006, Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady released an Academy Award-nominated documentary entitled Jesus Camp to the astonishment of the secular world. The undercover filmmakers went inside an evangelical summer kids camp to reveal the indoctrination of children into a scary world “where kids are taught to become dedicated Christian soldiers in God’s army and are schooled in how to take America back for Christ.” At one point in the film, a young child tells the filmmakers, “We’re trained to be God’s army.”

Are Christians closet militants—and is this what God had in mind?

Please join us as we look closer at this topic in our daily Bible conversation.


Isaiah 54:1-57:14
Ephesians 6:1-24
Psalm 70:1-5
Proverbs 24:8


Isaiah 54:1-57:14. “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts’” (Isaiah 55:8–9).

Do we really believe this? Because if we do, then we can live with mystery and unanswered questions. Sometimes even painful questions. If we really believe it, then we won’t always have the answers to inquiries about God—nor will we ever. Modernism convinced us that we can find the answer to any question if we work hard enough.

And God laughs.

Isaiah does offer a possible answer to a painful question: Why do good people die prematurely?

“The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil” (Isaiah 57:1).

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Since I haven’t attended the camp at the center of the Jesus Camp controversy, I can’t speculate on the veracity of the film. I will say that movies aren’t successful without an element of suspense, intrigue, or something else that’s out of the ordinary, so my guess is, the documentary is likely a caricature of the true camp. But I will say this: Christians have brought a great deal of embarrassment upon ourselves.

Are Christians closet militants intent on taking over our schools, government, and bedrooms? Some are, but I doubt they’ll every be successful because the “militant” faction is too small and extreme.

Over the years, the passage in Ephesians 6 addressing spiritual warfare and the armor of God has been misunderstood and misconstrued to hilarious, embarrassing, and disastrous results.

Years ago, I decided the passage on the armor of God should be interpreted literally, so every day I physically put on a coat of imaginary armor. If Paul told us to put on the armor of God, I assumed, then we should put on the armor.

I envisioned myself as God’s Rambo (from Sylvester Stallone’s First Blood movies), tearing down the strongholds of Satan. If I didn’t, who would?

But then I realized that the armor of God isn’t about me, it’s about Jesus. Jesus is the truth, my righteousness, my peace. He is the one in whom I place my faith, he is my salvation, and he is the word made flesh. Paul wrote, “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14).

So how do we put on the armor of God? How do we clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ?

I never noticed it before, but this time while reading through Ephesians 6, the prominence of prayer jumped out at me. Between verses 18 and 20, variations of the word “prayer” appears five times:

“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. ” (Ephesians 6:18–20)

If I’m trying to make a point, I repeat it several times—and that’s what I think Paul is doing.

I’ve long considered prayer to be a form of “the word made flesh.” When I read the word of God and meditate on it, and then make it a matter of prayer, the word of God becomes embodied on me. I become more like Jesus. Obviously, I’m not perfect, but the word of God begins changing me—which makes sense because Jesus is the word made flesh (John 1:14).

The more we become like Jesus, the less we need to worry about the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. We may struggle against them, but we have nothing to fear because all authority has been given to Jesus (Matthew 28:18).


What spoke to you in today’s reading?

How is prayer similar to warfare?

How do you “put on” Christ?

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

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Was Jesus The Most Interesting Man In The World?

His charm is so contagious that vaccines have been created for it…

Every time he goes for a swim, dolphins appear…

His blood smells like cologne…

The police often question him, just because they find him interesting…

His personality is so magnetic, he’s unable to carry credit cards….

Even his enemies list him as their emergency contact number…

People hang on his every word, even the transitions…

He could disarm you with his looks, or his hands…

His reputation is expanding faster than the universe…

He once had an awkward moment, just to see how it feels…

He lives vicariously through himself…

Who is this man? The most interesting man in the world from the Dos Equis beer commercials aired in the U.S. The ads portray this man as the embodiment of cool.

But could they also be based on Jesus?

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


Isaiah 51:1-53:12
Ephesians 5:1-33
Psalm 69:19-36
Proverbs 24:7


Isaiah 51:1-53:12. I noticed that in last weekend’s reading and in today’s reading, the word “garment” appears four times (Isaiah 50:9, 51:6, 51:8, 52:1). It’s not the most common word in Scripture, so it stops me, at least momentarily.

If you complain about the quality of clothes today, you should have seen clothes in Isaiah’s day. When Isaiah says his accusers will wear out like a garment or the earth will wear out like a garment, he’s saying they aren’t permanent. On the other hand, he contrasts garments that wear out with the salvation that comes from God, which lasts forever. “The earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants die like flies. But my salvation will last forever, my righteousness will never fail” (Isaiah 51:6).

This reading also guides us into a section that refers to what theologians call “the suffering servant” (especially Isaiah 52:13-53:12). The suffering servant is Jesus.

Ephesians 5:1-33. Paul offers some practical instruction for all believers. He tells his readers to avoid being immoral, impure or greedy. The Greek word for “immoral” is pornos. That’s pretty easy to identify. But the next two aren’t often discussed. “Impure” is more a state of the heart. It involves our thoughts and intentions. I can do some very good things and remain impure inside. For example, I can give generously (a pure action) because I want people to consider me generous—and impure intention. In my experience, the last word—greedy—is rarely addressed in the church. “Greed,” however, is not akin to “wealthy.” Poor people can be just as greedy as anyone else. The Greek word, pleonexia, means “have more.” While the root meaning of a word isn’t always the same as its definition, this time it is. Greed is the constant desire for more—not just money but power, influence, stuff, anything really.

Proverbs 24:7. The gate of the city was the location where business was transacted and legal matters resolved. The wise old men often gathered near the gate to offer advise to younger men and women. That’s why the writer says that the fool has nothing to say in the assembly at the gate.

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Through the years, I’ve heard various descriptions about Jesus’ appearance. I once heard a youth speaker describe him as a tall, really good looking athlete who could palm a basketball. Another speaker described him as a winner—and that when we commit to living for him, we’ll become winners too. And vice versa, when we become winners, we look most like Jesus.

Regardless, Jesus was portrayed as cool, the prototype of the most interesting man in the world.

But that doesn’t line up with Isaiah’s version of the coming messiah. Isaiah 53:2–3 tells us,

He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

The early church sang a hymn which Paul included in his description of Jesus in Philippians 2:6-11: “[Jesus] made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (verse 7).

When he came to earth, Jesus didn’t look like the messiah. He was born to peasants and spent his first hours in a food trough for animals. His father likely died while he was young and he spent his early years as a blue collar worker. He wasn’t good looking nor did he have a commanding presence. He was plain. Average. Normal. Not particularly cool. Probably couldn’t even palm a basketball. And definitely not the most interesting man in the world, at least according to the Dos Equis beer commercials.

If Jesus was cool, then he was the messiah of the athletes, winners, wealthy, good-looking, funny, and successful people. But he intentionally avoided being like them not because he didn’t love them, but because he came to earth to be the messiah for everyone.

In an age that emphasizes the importance of being successful and prosperous, Jesus offers something completely different: suffering and ridicule.

What’s my point? Jesus died for everyone, not just people with athletic prowess, business acumen, good looks, or magnetic personalities. In the same way, we don’t need to embody our culture’s definition of success in order to be pleasing in God’s sight. We don’t need to be cool and it seems to me that he doesn’t want us to portray him as cool.

He’s the messiah for everyone. For you and for me.

If you’d like to read an interesting post that looks at Jesus’ cool factor, click here.


  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. What could be some other reasons why Jesus avoided being cool?
  3. Why is it important to you that Jesus isn’t cool?
  4. Read the blog post I mentioned above. Do you agree? What is your reaction to it?

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

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


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The Only Way Out Of The Refrigerator

I sat alone in the darkness. The liquid blackness enveloped me, trapping me in the child-sized container, refusing to grant me release. Unless someone rescued me, I was 10-15 minutes from death.

It began rather innocuously. After church I had changed my clothes and decided I wanted to scare my older sister Lori. We had recently moved into a duplex that my dad converted into a single family home. My parents occupied the lower unit and my sister and I lived in the upstairs single bedroom unit. Lori lived in the bedroom and I was given the kitchen.

It was kind of odd waking up in the morning with a sink next to my head, but at seven years of age, I didn’t know any better. My “bedroom” also contained one other reminder of its past: an old refrigerator. The kind with the handle that you unlatch to open. The kind that cannot be unlatched from the inside.

I didn’t realize that important piece of information at the time.

So after changing my clothes, I prepared to scare my sister when she passed by my room on the way downstairs for Sunday dinner.

This will really make Lori jump!, I thought to myself as I stepped into the refrigerator and closed the door. But once the door latched, I realized there was a problem. I pushed and pushed. Then I waited for Lori to open the door. Unfortunately, when she walked by my room, she didn’t see me and decided I had already gone downstairs.

As time passed, I realized I was in trouble. I pounded and pounded, yelled and yelled, but no one could hear me through the well-insulated death trap.

If I had been a little older, I would have been terrified. But at my age I didn’t realize that refrigerators held a limited amount of air. Within minutes I would suffocate.

Instead, I just waited.

Suddenly, the door opened. “What are you doing in there??” my sister asked. Obviously my plans had been foiled.

That afternoon the refrigerator door was removed and the next day the refrigerator found a new home.

Years later I realized my sister saved my life. She was my only way out of the refrigerator

All of us need to be saved at some point in our lives–some of us cooperate and some of us don’t.

Please join us as we discuss this in our daily Bible conversation.


Isaiah 45:11-50:11
Ephesians 4:1-32
Psalm 68:19-69:18
Proverbs 24:3-6


Ephesians 4:1-32. This chapter is loaded with gems. In verses 11-13, Paul lists the various offices in the church: apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher. But which one is the most important person in this passage? You are. God’s people. The purpose of the apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher is to “prepare God’s people for works of service” (Ephesians 4:12 italics added). The word “prepare” means to equip. One of my greatest challenges I face as a pastor is to convince people not to live vicariously through me. As one of God’s people, I’m called to works of service, but he never intended that it should be limited to me.

Proverbs 24:3-6. “For waging war you need guidance, and for victory many advisers” (verse 6). Good advice not only for battle but for life.

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Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens. Our God is a God who saves;

from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death. Psalm 68:19-20

God “daily bears our burdens,” David wrote. And what are those burdens? Us. The New Living Translation phrases the above verse this way, “Each day he carries us in his arms.”

God carries us in his arms because our God is a God who saves. The nature of God is to save, to rescue. When we fail or fall down, God delights in picking us up and setting us back on our feet. This isn’t a burden to him because his nature is to save.

Derivatives of the word “save” appear approximately 381 times in the Bible with the vast majority of those times referring to our salvation.

But being saved doesn’t come easily to many. We like to save, but we don’t like being saved. It’s kind of like giving. Jesus said it’s better to give than receive, but it seems to me that it’s much easier to give than receive.

Being saved requires that we acknowledge our weakness, our sin, our inability to save ourselves. It’s the acknowledgment that we can’t open the latch of the refrigerator from the inside. The only way out of the refrigerator is through someone on the outside.

Being saved requires humility on our part and the willingness to trust someone else to rescue us.

Jesus came to this world to save us. Being saved means we admit that we can do nothing to save ourselves.

Is he your savior—or would you rather help him save you? If so, then you aren’t ready to be saved. But if you’re broken, worn out, weary, and tired of yourself. Well then, it looks like you’re ready to be saved.


  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. From Paul’s list of commands in Ephesians 4, which ones speak particularly to you?
  3. Is it easier for you to save or to be saved?
  4. What is required in order for you to be saved.

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

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When You Crave What Kills You

Our house serves as the domain of two shih tzu dogs named Zeus and Zoe. I love our dogs, but they have this one irritating problem: they have an insatiable appetite for chocolate.

Years ago, my wife and daughters went out of town the weekend before Christmas. For a pastor, holiday weekends are extremely busy. So after our Saturday night worship service at church, I dragged through the front door to discover Zeus and Zoe listless on the floor.

Apparently, they found a package under the Christmas tree that contained a box of chocolates, and they ate all of them. Every last one.

Scattered throughout the house were small piles of, well…you know…chocolate dog throw-up. On our white carpet.

I didn’t know if I should feel sorry for the dogs or be angry at them.

Not to worry, after a weekend of involuntary fasting, the dogs were back to their normal selves. The carpet didn’t fare so well.

Strangest of all, the dogs haven’t learned their lesson. This same escapade has repeated itself over and over again. Chocolate Easter bunnies. M&Ms. Reeses Peanut Butter Cups (they really like them!). And I’m forced to clean up the mess. On the white carpet.

What do you do when you crave what kills you. How do you change?

Please join me as we explore this in our daily Bible conversation.


Isaiah 43:14-45:10
Ephesians 3:1-21
Psalm 68:1-18
Proverbs 24:1-2


Psalm 68:1-18. “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling” (verse 5). These words speak hope to people who have lived without a father or spouse. Although I’ve been blessed with both, dear friends of mine have not—including my co-blogger Eugene, who has spent most of his life without his father. Yet God willingly, lovingly steps into that void.

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Eugene and I recently realized that the most popular blog post this year was the August 2 post entitled “The Only Way People Change.” Every day, a handful of people read it.

All of us want to change, but quite often we don’t know how.

“See, I am doing a new thing,” God spoke through the prophet Isaiah. “I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland” (Isaiah 43:19).

God was likely referring to the new covenant he was making with his people through Jesus.

The old way of doing things was no longer working for Israel. Actually, it had never worked quite right. Despite their best intentions, God’s chosen people continually gravitated toward worshipping idols.

In the next chapter, God exposes the folly of idolatry. Out of the same block of wood, a craftsman can fashion a god while throwing the leftover pieces in the fire. A blacksmith can take the same piece of metal to create either an idol or a farm implement.

It’s just wood or metal, God says. But like the old song reminds us, “Breaking up is hard to do.” Change doesn’t come easily.

Lest we look down our noses at the peculiar worship practices of people from long ago, we continue to gravitate toward the same idols. The gods of old promised prosperity, pleasure, and security—gods that many of us worship today.

If you’re wondering what gods you gravitate toward worshipping, just take a closer look at how you spend your time or money. Ask yourself, What secrets do I guard most closely?

So how do we overcome our death-giving habits? What do we do when we crave what kills us?

1. Understand the depths of God’s love for you. “Do not be afraid, O Jacob, my servant, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen,” God reassures his people in Isaiah 44:2. Jeshurun was a term of endearment that means “upright.” Regardless of how deep our compulsions suck us in, God still loves us and looks at us with affection. Even when we sin.

Also notice that God tells his beloved but flawed not to be afraid. Fear always accompanies change.

Paul reiterates the depths of God’s love in our reading from Ephesians 3:17-19:

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Knowing in our inmost being the depths of Christ’s love changes us.

2. Acknowledge the foolishness of your sin. Your death-giving habits are no different than idols of wood or metal. They will never satisfy. Never. Remind yourself of this.

3. Repent. This word has fallen out of favor in our society, but that doesn’t mean that it’s any less important. “Return to me, for I have redeemed you” God beckons his wayward people in Isaiah 44:21-22. And that’s the definition of repentance: turning our back on our idols. That’s the only way we can break free from them. Repentance and change go hand in hand. It means creating new habits, changing old ones, and exchanging death-giving habits for life-giving habits.

4. Draw strength from the Holy Spirit. In Isaiah 44:3, God promises, “I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.” We have an advantage over the people of Isaiah’s day because they didn’t have the Holy Spirit living inside them. If you’ve given your life to Jesus, the Holy Spirit lives in you. Believe and live it.

Like my dogs Zeus and Zoe, the craving for what kills you will probably remain the rest of your life. My favorite line in the hymn Come Thou Fount says, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.”Throughout out lives we will fight the tendency to abandon the God who remains faithful to us.

But when you understand the depths of God’s love and that the Holy Spirit lives in you, you also realize that you no longer need to follow your compulsions. The deepest part of you isn’t even you, it’s Christ.

Endless books have been written on addictions and idolatry, so I won’t try to exhaust the subject here. But be encouraged in this: although God is changeless, he’s always doing a new thing in our lives, which often requires change. A change in lifestyle. A change in perspective. A change in character.

Following God into the new thing might be scary, but it brings us new life.


  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. How can a person invite God into the void of a father or husband?
  3. What idols do you gravitate toward? What changes is God calling you to?
  4. How can you rely on the Holy Spirit to make the change?
  5. What has helped you overcome the craving that kills you?

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


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Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door or Many an Un-truth is Spoken in Jest

Mother Teresa died and was greeted at the Pearly Gates by Saint Peter . . . so the typical heaven’s door joke opens. We’ve all heard a thousand different versions featuring everyone from golfers to geriatrics and pastors to prostitutes. Most of them also have Peter asking the poor soul standing at the gate, “Why should I let you in?” The answer is usually the punch-line.

These punch-lines produce more than a chuckle; they also reveal what many popularly believe about life and death and heaven and the God who is supposed to be living there. These jokes show us that many an un-truth is spoken in jest.

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)

Isaiah 41:17-43:13

Ephesians 2:1-22

Psalm 67:1-7

Proverbs 23:29-35


Isaiah 41:17-43:13: Because the arts, such as poetry, are often difficult to interpret, many are therefore very uncomfortable seeing the arts as valid ways to communicate truth. God seems to have no such misgivings. This chapter continues the beautiful poem describing God’s power, wrath, love, grace, and concern for Israel and his creation. By using artistic words and poetic concepts, God is able to deliver to us some hard truths we may shy away from if stated in mere propositional language.

Ephesians 2:1-22: “We are God’s workmanship,” Paul writes in verse 10. The word we translate “workmanship” is literally and better translated “poetry” or “artwork.” Would that the Bible translators were more comfortable with metaphorical translations. If we are “workmanship,” we can only be one of many: identical fenceposts standing in a row or silver automobiles rolling off an assembly line. But if we are poetry or art, we are unique, painstakingly written or drawn not just designed with a purpose but carrying a message and an image of the Artist himself. As I wrote yesterday, you and I are works of art!

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Have you ever noticed how the punch-lines of these gone-to-heaven jokes usually boil down to what the person knocking on heaven’s door did or didn’t do in life? According to these jokes, entrance into heaven depends on how good each of us are during our lives down here.

One such joke features Mother Teresa and God eating very simple meals together in heaven. Eventually she asks about the sparse menu. God answers, “Let’s be honest Teresa, for just two people, it doesn’t pay to cook.”

I don’t find that idea funny. If Mother Teresa is the standard my good works have to measure up to, I might as well not even knock on the door. Further, if anyone of us, even Mother Teresa, could earn heaven, why did Jesus let himself be tortured and nailed to a cross to give us eternal life freely? Instead why didn’t Jesus just write out a check-list of attittudes and actions that we could fill out and present to Peter at the gate?

Because, as Paul writes, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.” By definition you can’t earn a gift.

This is the beautiful theological truth behind birthday presents. How ludicrus it would be for anyone upon opening her birthday gifts to say, “Thank you for recognizing how hard I worked to get here. These gifts will remind me each day of the effort I put into my conception and birth.”

Just as there is no way anyone earned his or her birth and the gift of life, so too none of us can earn being born again and the gift of eternal life. All we have to do is receive God’s gift of grace and forgiveness and open it.

Another un-truth spoken in these jests is that Peter usually stands as heaven’s gatekeeper. In reality Jesus gave Peter keys to the kingdom. But since Jesus flung the doors wide open, I’m not sure what Peter’s keys are for. Jesus is the way. No one comes to the Father except through Jesus, even Peter.

Finally notice how these jokes place heaven “up there.” Yet, Scripture speaks of heaven as a kingdom that contains earth. In the end, the earth will be reborn just as we have been. But until then it is an imperfect piece of heaven here and now. We will not walk for eternity on clouds. Paul says we “have been saved” and are “seated in the heavenly realms.” This is all written in the past or present tense. Heaven begins when we are “in Christ” not after death. Heaven is here and now. Yet there is a piece of it to come. Fuller Seminary Professor George Eldon Ladd called this the “already/not yet” truth of the gospel. Our theology lived out and conveyed in these jokes expresses only the “not yet” part of what Jesus gave us from the cross. Paul desperately wants us to live in the “already.” Mother Teresa didn’t care for the sick and dying and castoff of Calcutta to get from earth to heaven. She poured her life out to them to bring heaven to earth.

Please don’t think I can’t take a joke, I love a good comedy routine and punch-line. Still there are many truths and un-truths spoken in jest. We can laugh at both, but eternity may hang in knowing the difference.

  1. Which passage spoke most to you?

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


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Your Place in the Cosmos: The Parable of the Artist

Once upon a time an Artist originated a stunning work of art. Mixing various media such as sculpture, water color, oil, ink, movement, texture, and light, the Artist created a piece the likes of which no one had before beheld. Pleased, The Artist displayed the piece prominently at a cross-roads for all to see. Travelers trekked from afar to admire the piece, which ignited in them a burning desire to create also. When this happened, the Artist, standing off unnoticed, bowed his head and smiled.

Strangely the Artist did not scribble his signature on the piece, believing his authoritative strokes, unique colors, and complex designs spoke for him. The Artist also left his work untitled hoping those drawn to it would christen it. Soon enough it became known as The Creation. The Artist took great pleasure in the joy his work brought and so scattered smaller pieces of art throughout the world. Predictably Art flourished.

For a time.

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)

Isaiah: 39:1-41:16

Ephesians 1:1-23

Psalm 66:1-20

Proverbs 23:26-28


Isaiah: 39:1-41:16: I laughed when I read chapter 39:1-8. King Hezekiah makes a dumb move and shows his enemies all his treasure and secrets. As a result, God comes to him through Isaiah and makes one of the easiest predictions ever. You gave Babylon the map to your palace and key to your house. Now they will come and steal all you have amassed and worked for. Even your grandchildren will be taken away.

Hezekiah’s response? I’m so glad it won’t happen in my time.

How often does God use the natural consequences of our dumb choices as punishment for not obeying and listening to him? And how often do we continue in our ignorance simply because we won’t experience those consequences and that wrath immediately?

Ephesians 1:1-23: This chapter contains one of Paul’s beautiful prayers. One of the things this prayer (and his others) challenged me with is how large and mighty it is. He does not pray for the Ephesians’ physical ailments or anything daily or mundane (though these things are good to give to God). He prays instead that we can know God, his glorious gifts, his deep love, and his promises. When I read these prayers, how little mine seem. This, this makes me want to pray for a resurrection of my faith and for the great things of God. Then maybe my cold and cough will wither in comparison.

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After time, however, Art Critics thrived and complained that The Creation, and all of The Artist’s other works, carried no signature. Thus Controversy as to the true identity of the Creator of The Creation also flourished.

Eventually people not only Denied that the The Artist conceived The Creation but further Claimed that their artists had–artists with names such as Baal, Pan, Zeus, Mother Nature, and Chance. Rivalries bloomed. Schools of thought evolved. Many revered The Creation rather than The Artist. Others rose up and reasoned that, because no one had seen The Artist or any artist, that no Artist existed. Instead, they argued, “Our fear and ignorance invented the idea of an Artist to help us understand The Creation.” But they couldn’t explain how The Creation originated. Some argued that since no Artist exists The Creation must have Spontaneously flared into being.

This View ultimately won the day and The Creation evolved into an Object of study rather than an awe inspiring work of Art. Its paint, canvas, frame, material, and techniques were studied, tested, weighed, categorized, and controlled. Unfortunately, to those studying it, The Creation lost its Beauty and Wonder, becoming a conquered object. The Critics further erected a wall around The Creation and, to appease those still traveling to see it, made available, at a small cost, blurred prints. Consequently all of the other unique works of The Artist became objects of study as well, only valued if they served a purpose The Critics supported. Art as The Artist designed it died.

Now The Artist wept bitterly. But not because of a lack of recognition for his work. For had he wanted Fame he would have fixed his signature unmistakably on his every piece. The Artist mourned because his Original Idea, for all of those who admired The Creation to become intimate with his ways as artists themselves, miscarried. Decay flourished.

Inconceivably The Artist bowed his head, smiled and returned to The Creation determined to recreate and reinspire Art. In a final, powerful, artistic stroke The Artist sculpted A Cross that blended the image of his love for all artists with the pain The Artist felt when Art in them died. A small but unstoppable revolution followed. The Artist established an Artist Colony designed to incite all to learn Art. Lesser artists then became Art teachers passing on the Wonder and Technique of The Artist to all future generations. Today that Colony of Artists stands in the Crossroads–commissioned to Declare the love and wonder of The Artist himself.

“‘To whom will you compare me?

Or who is my equal?‘ says the Holy One.

Lift your eyes and look to the heavens:

Who created all these?

He who brings out the starry host one by one,

and calls them each by name.”

What is our place in the cosmos? We belong in the heart and hand of the Artist. We too are the work of The Artist’s hand and he calls each of us by name as well.

  1. Which passage spoke most to you?
  2. Which part of creation points you to God?
  3. What do you most often pray for?

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


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Is God In Control And Does He Know The Future?

In the movie Stranger Than Fiction, Will Ferrell plays Harold Crick, your average IRS agent: monotonous, boring, and repetitive. But one day this all changes when Harold begins to hear an author inside his head narrating his life. The narrator it is extraordinarily accurate, and Harold recognizes the voice as an esteemed author he saw on TV. But when the narration reveals that he is going to die, Harold must find the author of the story, and ultimately his life, to convince her to change the ending of the story before it is too late.

Does an author exist who writes the storylines that our lives are destined to follow?

Please join us in today’s Bible conversation.


Isaiah 37:1-38:22
Galatians 6:1-18
Psalm 65:1-13
Proverbs 23:24


Isaiah 37:1-38:22. The words in the passage coincide almost word for word with 2 Kings 19.

Galatians 6:1-18. As we come to the end of his letter, Paul offers an assortment of unrelated instructions. Verse 8 stood out to me more than the others: “The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” We sow seeds into our flesh or our spirit that yield a harvest of fruit or give us a crop failure.

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The interaction between King Sennacherib’s commander and God in Isaiah 37 is intriguing. The commander is preparing to destroy Jerusalem—an example of free will. But then God tells Isaiah, “Listen! I am going to put a spirit in him so that when he hears a certain report, he will return to his own country, and there I will have him cut down with the sword” (Isaiah 37:7)—an example of God’s sovereignty over our the Assyrian commander’s decisions. The text says God would “put a spirit” in the commander that would cause him to change his mind.

If God had wanted to, he could have prevented the whole thing and saved Hezekiah from the stress and humiliation, but he didn’t.

This begs the question: was God reacting to King Sennacherib and his commander or was he enacting his plan that began before the foundations of the earth were laid?

Then we read in Isaiah 37:26,

Have you not heard? Long ago I ordained it. In days of old I planned it; now I have brought it to pass, that you have turned fortified cities into piles of stone.

Looks like God’s in total control.

Later, in chapter 38, God tells Hezekiah that he will soon die. Hezekiah prays and what happens? God changes his mind and decides to extend Hezekiah life fifteen more years. Why would God tell Hezekiah he would die if he knew he that he would change his mind? It seems as if God didn’t know the future.

Lately, I’ve come to determine that most debates about predestination (the belief that God controls the thoughts and actions of all people) versus free will begin with a faulty assumption. They operate under the assumption that God is limited by a linear time line when most people agree that God lives outside of time.

If God lives outside of time, it seems to me that every event in world history is happening at once–with God firmly in control. In that respect, both opinions are true.

In our personal rights loving society, we want to believe that we’re in total control. We don’t want people telling us what to do or giving us any restraints. Sounds a little like Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. God told them not to eat the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, but they ate it anyway.

Perhaps it’s time to give God a little credit and assume that perhaps he’ more in control than we realize.


What spoke to you in today’s reading?

How do people sow good or bad seeds into their lives?

Is it hard for you to believe that God is in total control of your life? Why or why not? What role does Scripture play in how you formulate your beliefs on this topic?

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

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The Most Overused, Misunderstood Word In The English Language

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

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

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

“Aye, fight and you may die,” their mythical leader replied. “Run, and you’ll live…at least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin’ to trade ALL the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take…OUR FREEDOM!”

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

Years ago, a chain of convenience stores posted the word “freedom” in big letters over their soft drink machines. They celebrated the “freedom” they offered their customers to choose from a half dozen different soft drinks. For this William Wallace and the forefathers of countries around the world died?

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

Join us as look delve deeper in today’s daily Bible conversation.


Isaiah 33:10-36:22
Galatians 5:13-26
Psalm 64:1-10
Proverbs 23:23


Isaiah 33:10-36:22. Chapter 34 presents God the way many people view him: angry and vindictive, waiting for the slightest misstep so he can punish us. God was indeed angry at the time. Edom was an heir of the promise by virtue of being the descendent of Esau, Abraham’s grandson. Israel descended through Jacob, Esau’s brother, which made the nations cousins, so to speak.

Not only did the people of Edom worship idols, but they had also acted treacherously toward Israel. One hundred and fifty years later, Obadiah offered similar prophecies condemning Edom. Edom, however, wasn’t alone in receiving God’s condemnation, for every nation was deserving of destruction because they were entangled in the clutches of sin.

This is the reason God sent his son Jesus to the world (which chapter 35 implies). To offer us the ultimate sacrifice for sin. For our sin. But we have something the people in the Old Testament didn’t have: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit living in us (John 14:23; Colossians 1:26-27; Ephesians 1:13-14). No one can live the perfect life, but because of Jesus, our sins are forgiven and the Trinity lives in us, enabling us to live for him.

One other note: Chapters 36-39 break away from prophecy to give us some historical context for chapters 28-35. They parallel 2 Kings 18:13-20:19.

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

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

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

Paul though, continues his thought: “But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature” (verse 13).

Then Paul compares the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit. Sexual immorality, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, appear on the list of vices.

Is freedom the right to indulge in any of these vices? Technically speaking, yes.

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

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

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

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

If you have given your life to Jesus, the truest part of you is the fruit of the Spirit, and not the works of the flesh. And the deepest freedom is not the right to live without restraints nor the release from bondage to tyrannical oppression–it’s the freedom from the bondage to sin and the freedom to be who God created you to be.

Believe it.


  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. How does it feel to know that the truest part of you gravitates toward the fruit of the Spirit and not the works of the flesh?
  3. What helps you believe it? What prevents you from believing it?

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

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