Monthly Archives: October 2010

Hope In the Middle Of Your Pain

“Oh, I think I’ll probably get over it in two or three weeks,” a friend once confided to me. This person had experienced a betrayal that was nothing short of devastating.

“Ummm, I’m not so sure,” I replied. “You’re in a lot of pain. It may take you awhile to get over it.”

The person was incredulous. “What?? You’re not supporting me. I wish you would believe in me.”

“I do believe in you, but it takes time to heal.”

Five years later, this person is still feeling its affects. The road to recovery has been long and hard, yet we can see definite progress.

How do we find hope in the midst of overwhelming pain?

Please join us for our daily Bible conversation.


Lamentations 3:1-5:22
Hebrews 1:1-2:18
Psalm 102:1-103:22
Proverbs 26:21-23


Hebrews 1:1-2:18. One of the greatest debates through the centuries involves the identity of the author of Hebrews. Different theories exist; some say Paul, Apollos, or Barnabas. While possible, surely the identity of these men would have been included at the beginning if they had written it. People who specialize in analyzing writing styles say that it differs significantly from Paul’s epistles—yet it shares certain nuances that are reminiscent of him. So the nameless person was probably acquainted with Paul, but why would the epistle go nameless?

Here’s my theory: if a man had written Hebrews, his name would have been attached to it. But if a woman wrote it, her name would have likely been omitted out of concern that it wouldn’t be accepted in a male-dominated culture. But what women could have possibly written this letter? She would need to be quite familiar with the great aspostle. In various places, Paul acknowledges the gifts of Phoebe of Cenchrea (a deacon, Romans 16:1) and Junias (a female apostle, Romans 16:6). But to me, the logical option is Priscilla, whom Paul calls a “fellow worker.” Historians acknowledge that Priscilla, along with her husband Aquila, were a dynamic ministry team that traveled throughout the Roman Empire. In fact, Priscilla is given unusual prominence in the New Testament, often being named first when she and her husband are mentioned. So that’s my theory. Feel free to disagree.

Hebrews is written like a long sermon, so it is probably best understood when read in one sitting. The underlying theme is pain. Persecution against the Christians was beginning to increase. Relatives were trying to convince the Christians to avoid the suffering and return to the Jewish faith. So the author presents a convincing case that following Jesus is the better way. People who advocate that Judaism and Christianity are basically the same won’t like this book.

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Pain and suffering seem to be the prevailing theme in today’s reading…

The byline of Psalm 102 describes it as “a prayer of an afflicted man.” The pain expressed bears a close resemblance to my friend who I mentioned earlier. The psalmist writes in verse 4, “I forget to eat my food.” My friend lost a significant amount of weight as a result of feeling distraught over this particular devastation.

If you’ve experienced pain of this sort, then perhaps Psalm 102 can serve as a nodding head that expresses and affirms your suffering. If you haven’t experienced this kind of pain, then Psalm 102 can give you a window of understanding into the pain of others.

And what good can come out of our pain? The psalmist continues in verse 18, “Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord.” While God doesn’t waste our pain, usually we’re unable to see it from his perspective in the present. But looking back, often grants us a better perspective.

In the same way, Jeremiah laments the pain of the destruction of Jerusalem:

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” Lamentations 3:21–24

Jeremiah found hope for the future by recounting God’s faithfulness in the past.

The deliverance from our pain rarely follows our timeline. But look at it this way: the fact that you are still alive is evidence of God’s faithfulness. The fact that your pain hasn’t consumed you is evidence of God’s faithfulness. Your heart still beats and you still wake up every morning.

If God has carried you in the past, he will continue to carry you in the future.

It’s no mistake that Psalm 103 follows such the heartfelt lament in Psalm 102:

Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits— who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” Psalm 103:1–5

Sometimes our pain results from making poor choices. Lamentations is an example of that. Other times, our pain results from making good choices. Hebrews is another example. Pain is an equal opportunity offender. Yet God redeems any life from the pit and crowns us with love and compassion.

The temptation is to blame God when we suffer. At times I have accused God of enjoying himself watching me squirm. Yet Jeremiah tells us, “[God] does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men” (Lamentations 3:33). He doesn’t willingly cause unredemptive suffering.

So what role does he play in our pain? Here is our additional hope on this side of the cross: “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18). Jesus understands our pain, and he can help us in our pain because he has suffered pain.

At various times, I’ve shared a little about a previous painful church experience. In the middle of my suffering, I felt like God was against me. I cried out to God and assumed he was sitting in heaven with his arms crossed, watching me suffer from afar. Eleven years later, I can look back through my pain and identify crucial moments when he gave me the strength to get through it. When I cried out to God, I now realize that Jesus joined me in weeping over my pain.

And today, I can see the important lessons he worked in my life as a result of it. While I wouldn’t want to relive it, I have no regrets about enduring it.

“Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord.” Psalm 102:18


  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. What does your reading from Hebrews tell you about Jesus? What word or words does the author use to describe him?
  3. What encouragement does the Hebrew reading give you regarding suffering?
  4. Think back to a time when you experienced pain. How did God carry you? How did God change you?

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


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Does The Bible Support Slavery And Human Trafficking?

Although slavery was abolished about 150 years ago in the United States and many other countries, the number of slaves today remains as high as 12 million to 27 million. Most are debt slaves, largely in South Asia, who are under debt bondage incurred by lenders, sometimes even for generations. Human trafficking is primarily for prostituting women and children into sex industries. It is the fastest growing criminal industry and is predicted to eventually outgrow drug trafficking.

Although no one points to the Bible as the progenitor of slavery, many point to it as its perpetrator.

Does the Bible support slavery? And if it does, can we trust that Christianity wouldn’t perpetuate another heinous travesty?

Please join us in today’s Bible conversation to find out.


Lamentations 1:1-2:22
Philemon 1:1-25
Psalm 101:1-8
Proverbs 26:20


Lamentations 1:1-2:22. Lamentations is a book of laments written by Jeremiah the prophet after the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. The book is a series of five poems. The first, second, fourth, and fifth chapters all contain 22 verses, reflecting the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. The third lament (chapter 3) is composed of 22 three-line units—and each line begins with the corresponding Hebrew letter.

In an odd way, this is one of my favorite books in the Bible because it gives us a window into the heart of Jeremiah and God. But in the midst of the laments, we’re also given a ray of hope—which we’ll look at tomorrow.

Philemon 1:1-25. Philemon was a wealthy slave owner and a believer who lived in Colosse. He owned a slave named Onesimus who ran off and found Paul in a prison in Rome. Runaway slaves were a big deal in the Roman Empire. If they escaped and were returned, they could be beaten mercilessly or even killed. But through Paul, Onesimus met Jesus. After investing his life in his protégé, Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon…with a letter of explanation. Scholars believe he wrote this letter at the same time as Colossians and then sent it with the same travelers.

So why was Philemon included in the Bible?

Years after Paul founded the influential church of Ephesus, John became the bishop. But after him, Ignatius (c.35AD–c.107AD), an early church father, refers to a man named Onesimus who also served as the bishop of Ephesus. Many biblical scholars believe this bishop was one and the same with Philemon’s former slave. What a story of redemption!

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Many slaves were named Onesimus—which means “useful—in Paul’s day for obvious reasons. Paul, in fact, includes a word play on Onesimus’ name in Philemon 11: “Formerly [Onesimus] was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.”

Many readers are shocked that Paul encouraged the return of Onesimus to his master. Critics and skeptics point to this fact as proof that the Bible supported slavery. Two hundred years ago people who supported slavery cited this book as proof.

The temptation is to evaluate previous cultures on the basis of current values. But really, that doesn’t seem fair. We behave according to what we know at the time. While the Bible may be criticized as pro-slavery and anti-women, compared to the surrounding cultures at that time, it granted them unprecedented freedoms.

Biblical scholar William Webb offers a unique perspective on the slavery issue. He interprets Scripture from the perspective of what he calls “God’s redemptive movement.” I call it “trajectories.” He says that in comparison to the surrounding cultures, Scripture was quite loose regarding slavery. In fact, the movement—the trajectory—of Scripture gravitates toward freedom for slaves. Consider this: In Moses’ day, the surrounding nations relied on slavery to support their economy. God, however, commanded the Israelites to hold a slave no more than six years before granting their release in the seventh year.

Paul returned Onesimus to his owner, yes, but he did so with the encouragement that Philemon treat Onesimus “no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother” (verse 16). This was a definite redirection from the culture of his time.

Elsewhere, Paul explained that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28).

Respected Biblical scholar Craig Blomberg comments that “Paul sowed seeds for a revolutionary alternative in Christ which in time could only but threaten social institutions of oppression [such as slavery]” (quoted in 1 Corinthians, NIV Application Commentary, 148).

What does this mean to us?

God values human life. Although the surrounding culture of Jesus’ day devalued human life, God affirms it, regardless of skin color, financial condition, or even religious practice. Because we’re all created in the image of the infinite God, we have value. And so do the people around you.


  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. What does valuing human life look like to you?
  3. Does modern-day slavery and human trafficking bother you? Why or why not?

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

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Would The Apostle Paul Have Used Facebook?

What would the Apostle Paul have thought of Facebook?

The Apostle Paul Writing His Facebook Status by Rembrandt

Would he, like some, call Facebook the Devil in disguise? Or would he, like some 500 million others today, log in, change his status, and check in on his friends?

Some might say the ancient theologian was far too serious for such frivolity.

But I’m not sure.

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)

Jeremiah 51:54-52:34

Titus 3:1-15

Psalm 100:1-5

Proverbs 26:18-19


Proverbs 26:18-19: Some might interpret this proverb as a slam against humor. Some see God, faith, the Bible, and life as so serious there is no place for joking. That kind of thinking is what made Mark Twain, the man with a fabulous sense of humor, think twice about going to heaven. He worried playing the same tune on a harp might be a tad boring.

We do our God no favors denying him a sense of humor. Thus, this proverb is not a prohibition against joking, but rather against using humor to cover up our true ideas or feelings.

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I believe the Apostle Paul would have embraced social media such as Facebook (though probably with a wise, critical eye) because he was an innovator, especially when it came to communicating the truth of Jesus Christ.

Not many people could read or write in Paul’s day, and letters were exchanged mainly between educated government officials, yet Paul wrote personal letters to his friends and common everyday folk (thirteen that we know of including Titus and Timothy). Some say that personal letter writing as we know it today (or used to before email and Facebook) did not really gain ground until about 1500AD. Paul was well before his time. Surely he would have seen this technology as a way to talk about Jesus.

Further, I believe Paul would have logged on because he valued relationships. Paul is famous for his theology. But above all he valued people and friendships.

Paul tells his friends in Thessolinica, “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.” And he greets, names as friends, affectionately mentions, and encourages over 80 people by name in his letters. There are many others he does not name. In Titus he mentions Artemus, Tychicus, Zenas, and Apollos. Not one New Testament letter of Paul’s does not contain a warm personal greeting to some person or group. Paul’s Facebook friend list would have been almost as long as any teenage girl’s.

Like his mentor and master, Jesus, Paul cared about people. He cared about their health, families, faith, relationships, beliefs, work, theology, ideas, politics, sex lives, kids, marriages, and, especially, their eternal destinies. And he loved them so deeply he suffered physical pain and persecution to be with them. He traveled miles, wrote difficult letters, prayed, argued, taught, wept, and was imprisoned for their sake and the gospel.

Despite our modern ability to connect, many people are lonely. A recent study reported 67% of Americans are spending less time with friends than ever. And for us within the church, whom Jesus commanded to love one another, we often value doctrine and structures and systems and budgets and buildings over relationships. This must break our relational God’s heart.

I have a new friend I met through email who wrote that, as important as doctrine is, he believes right doctrine follows right relationships. I agree. For that matter, Jesus seemed to believe that love was our first doctrinal calling. Paul certainly held fast to the cord of truth. But he seldom strangled strangers with it. Rather he laid it out within the loving friendships he developed.

As the modern saying goes, “Would you rather be right or be in relationship?”

My answer, “I’d rather be in right relationships.”

Would Paul have used Facebook? Though I asked the question, I’m not sure it really matters. I just asked it to focus on this fact: Paul never forgot how important relationships were. So, where Facebook would have fostered them, he would have logged on. And where Facebook hindered knowing and loving the people God placed in his life, he may have said, “Facebook is the devil in disguise.”

1. Which passage spoke most to you?

2. What did the four have in common?

3. What social networks do you use?

4. Do they deepen or distance you from relationships?

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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Life Without Consequences

He was an extremely cute two-year old, dark hair sticking up all round, big black eyes, crumpled Denver Bronco t-shirt with spots of drool on the front. He had only one flaw: his high-pitched, nonstop screech. He had planted himself in the middle of the grocery store aisle and was pitching a fit.

Further down the aisle his parents and older brother tuned him out. He increased his volume. His mother hesitated but still ignored him. He cranked it up again.

Suddenly his mother grabbed a box of Sugar Bomb cereal, spun around and offered them to him. He stopped howling, as if someone had hit his mute button, and ran to his mother for his reward. He deserved it. He had worked hard for it.

I had just witnessed something all too common, and not restricted to two-year olds, in our modern world: life without consequences.

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)

Jeremiah 51:1-53

Titus 2:1-15

Psalm 99:1-9

Proverbs 26:17


Jeremiah 51:1-53: This chapter calls for extensive study to understand the historical setting and the sins of Babylon. But in the first reading we can gain two insights. First, despite that God uses Babylon’s desire to conquer and destroy other nations to punish his people, Babylon too will incur the wrath of God for their murderous actions and for persecuting God’s anointed. Second, this oracle is filled with emotion. Even the tone seems to communicate God’s passion for his people and for justice.

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It’s not just spoiled two-year olds who appear to live without consequences. Too many of us eat whatever we want, don’t exercise, and expect to look like body builders and live well into our 90s. Can’t we just take an anti-fat pill? Violent TV, music and movies proliferate and we argue about why violence grows in real life. Can’t we just blame someone else? As of this moment, the people of the United States are in debt to the tune of 13 trillion dollars. Can’t we just declare bankruptcy?

Live for today for tomorrow may never come, some say.

But tomorrow always comes. Or as Isaac Newton discovered, every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

Many of us don’t believe it, however, because many consequences are slow to come, or glance off. And spiritual consequences seem even more distant. Disobedience from God doesn’t lead to death, like God said it would, for many of us for many years. Israel and Babylon both ignored God for generations seemingly without consequence. As do we. God tells Jeremiah, “It is time for the Lord’s vengeance; he will pay her [Babylon] what she deserves.” When?

That’s the problem. God is patient and we take advantage of his long-suffering. This is a piece of God’s freedom. Imagine if God hit us with a lightning bolt every time we broke his laws of life or a law of nature. We would be frozen. Instead God allows us to defy everything from gravity to grace.

We even ignore good consequences. Paul reminds Titus, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘No‘ to ungodliness . . . and to live self-controlled, upright lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope.”

Except we don’t learn or wait. Maybe because heaven and hell seem so far away.

This is a strange thing. It’s as if God wants us to choose the good out of love not fear and he waits and waits to release our consequences until the last possible moment, hoping we will choose love freely.

Yet consequences do come, some more quickly than others. And God always gives us warning. “Like one who seizes a dog by the ears,” God says, is one who does not consider the consequences of his actions.

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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The Secret To Rock Music Relevance And Shaking The Doldrums Off Your Faith

During its heyday, I wasn’t interested in listening to good old rock and roll. But as an adult, I’ve developed a fondness for the music I missed as a teenager. If it interests you, try to name a few classic rock bands that have remained relevant in the music scene.

Some that come to mind include Aerosmith, the Rolling Stones, the Who, and U2 (my personal favorite, although they wouldn’t be considered “classic rock”). I don’t consider myself a fan of all these bands, but I respect the fact that they continue to appeal to a wide selection of audiences. Their success and longevity can be attributed to their talent, artistic song-writing, and performance abilities. But there’s one more characteristic that any devoted follower of Jesus can learn from these men. In fact, it can transform their relationship with God.

Please join us in our daily Bible conversation to discover what it is!


Jeremiah 49:23-50:46
Titus 1:1-16
Psalm 97:1-98:9
Proverbs 26:13-16


Jeremiah 49:23-50:46. A sense of irony arises in Jeremiah’s prophecy against Babylon in chapter 50. Remember that in the previous chapters, Jeremiah referred to Babylon as a tool of God. He also encouraged Judah to submit to the Babylonian invaders or they would die. As a result, he was accused of being a traitor and after the invasion, the Babylonian army treated him well.  But here, he speaks judgment against them. Prophecy can be an equal opportunity offender.

Titus 1:1-16. Like Timothy, Titus was one of Paul’s young protégés as well as a trusted companion. Titus played the role of a trouble shooter in Paul’s churches, often left with the task of cleaning up church messes–which he did in Corinth (read 2 Corinthians 7-8) and now in Crete (Titus 1:5). Although he accompanied Paul on many of his journeys, he isn’t mentioned in the book of Acts, which has led some scholars to believe that he was related to Luke, the book’s author. Out of propriety, writers at that time often intentionally ignored themselves and relatives in their writings.

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David was undoubtedly the greatest musical artist in the Bible. Not only did soothe King Saul’s troubled soul with his harp playing, but he also wrote countless psalms that churches sing 3,000 years after they were written. That’s nothing short of amazing!

David definitely wasn’t a one hit wonder—which is what he shares in common with the relevant rock bands—or groups of any genre—of today. Staying relevant in any form of music requires fresh songwriting about common (and often tired) themes.

In Psalm 98, David begins with the exhortation to “Sing to the Lord a new song.” The phrase “new song” is a common phrase in his lyrics, appearing six times in the Psalms: 33:3, 40:3 (the basis for U2’s song 40), 96:1, 98:1, 144:9, and 149:1. Admittedly, some of the aforementioned psalms go without a byline, but the fact that they resemble the psalms written by David lead me to conclude that he wrote them. At a minimum, they were written by nameless psalmists with David in mind!

But what’s the point of singing a new song? They give us a different perspective on God which revitalizes our tired worship.

I once tried to thank God for something different every day. After a week, I started running out of things that I was thankful for. But pressing harder into this pursuit opened new insights into the many ways God has blessed me.

Ten years ago, following a painful church experience, I wrote a book of prayers entitled Prayers To Move Your Mountains. In order to avoid falling into a rut of saying the same thing over and over again, I forced myself to intentionally think about the prayers I was writing. I meditated on God’s word, prayed about what I should pray, and I looked for new ways to express my heart to God. In the end, my wounded heart was healed!

If you want to break out of the doldrums in your walk with God, write a new song. It doesn’t need to be musical—just spend time meditating on God’s word, pray about what you want to say, and then look for new ways to express your heart to God. Write a poem, create a work of art, write a song or a prayer–something different that will help you break free from your rut.

I promise that it will open new pathways in your walk with God!


  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. If you were to write a new song to God, what would you say?
  3. Would you like to share a “new song” with our daily Bible conversation community?

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 Worst Thing That Can Happen To You

Dear Mom and Dad,

I just thought I’d drop you a note to let you know what’s going on with me. I’ve fallen in love with a guy named Blaze. He’s a really neat guy, but he quit high school a few years ago to get married. That didn’t work out, so he got a divorce last year. We’ve been going out for several weeks, and we’re thinking about getting married in the fall. Until then, I’ve decided to move into his apartment. I think I might be pregnant. Oh yeah, I dropped out of school last week so that I could get a job to help support Blaze. I’m hoping to finish college after we get married.

Mom and Dad, I just want you to that everything I’ve written so far in this letter is a lie. None of it is true.

But Mom and Dad, it is true that I got a C in French and a D in Math. And it’s also true that I need some more money. Could you please send ma a hundred dollar? Thanks a bunch.

Love, Julie

Two days later a check arrived in the mail from her parents.

The first part of the letter, though, represents every parent’s worst nightmare.

But what if the first part of the letter was true? Is that the worst thing that could ever happen to someone’s daughter?

And what about you? Perhaps you have suffered unimaginable pain and a shattered life. If so, I don’t want to take your suffering lightly—but is it the worst thing that could ever happen to you?

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


Jeremiah 48:1-49:22
2 Timothy 4:1-22
Psalm 95:1-96:13
Proverbs 26:9-12


2 Timothy 4:1-22. As Paul’s second letter to Timothy draws to a close, I get the feeling that Paul knows the end of his life is near. In rapid-fire succession, he leaves his protégé with parting instructions, little nuggets of wisdom. His words in verse 7 make me a little misty-eyed: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Finishing well isn’t easy for anyone. Fortunately, finishing well doesn’t require a perfect life nor does it require a strong start or a successful middle. All it requires is finishing without quitting the faith. No matter what your past or present looks like, you can still finish well.

In verse 11, Paul tells Timothy, “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.” If you remember, Mark caused a sharp disagreement between Paul and Barnabas. Barnabas wanted Mark to accompany them on their missionary journey, but Paul didn’t because Mark had deserted them on an earlier trip. As a result, Paul and Silas worked together and Barnabas and Mark formed the other team (Acts 15:36-41). But here we read that Paul has softened toward Mark. Finishing well for Paul included the reconciliation of his relationship with Mark.

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The Israelites had just departed Egypt on their way to the Promised Land. Three days into their wilderness “adventure,” they ran out of water. As I’m sure you know, you can only go three days without water before you die.

The people were suffering—and they started to complain. They asked God why He brought them into the desert and they begged him to take them back to Egypt. In fact, they were so worked up that they were ready to stone Moses.

So God told Moses to strike the rock at Mt. Horeb. When he did so, water came gushing out. While the people were happy to quench their thirst, God then named the place Massah and Meribah which mean “testing” and “quarreling.”

Psalm 95:7-11 recounts the events of Exodus 17, and adds some perspective from God:

Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me, though they had seen what I did. For forty years I was angry with that generation; I said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known my ways.” So I declared on oath in my anger, “They shall never enter my rest.” Psalm 95:7–11

When we experience pain and suffering, the overwhelming temptation is to harden our hearts.

  • We blame God or the people who cause our suffering—or both.
  • We numb the pain through food, fantasy, disengagement, anger, or addictions).
  • We deny the pain.
  • Or we avoid the pain through deception, isolation, self-reliance.

Our tendency is to go anywhere but feel the pain. So in the effort to protect ourselves or avoid further disappointment, we harden our hearts—toward others, toward our loved ones, toward God. Ironically enough, hardening my heart toward someone else inevitably results in me hardening my heart toward God. And when I harden my heart toward God, the cancer inevitably finds its way into other relationships.

You see, the worst thing that can happen to you is to harden your heart. When you harden your heart, you no longer feel pain or conviction. When you harden your heart, you no longer care.

While I’m not advocating that you imitate the false portrayal of the girl in the letter, quitting college and running off with some loser isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a person.

In the same way, your deepest pain isn’t the worst thing that could ever happen to you, as long as you still choose to feel it. The worst thing that can happen to you is to stop feeling the pain. Doctors have a diagnosis for a body that feels no pain: death. So really, feeling the pain is a sign of life. As long as you feel something, you must be alive.

A few years ago, my oldest daughter began straying from the faith. I was concerned about the choices she was making. I was afraid she would dig herself into a hole that would take the rest of her life to dig out of. This passage reminded me that even if she completely messed up her life, she would be okay if her heart remained soft.

Fortunately, her heart remained soft and she eventually returned to the faith akin to the prodigal son.

If you’re feeling pain or you’re concerned about someone who is making bad choices, pray for a soft heart—because a person with a soft heart is never out of reach of the Holy Spirit’s touch.


  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. What events in your life tempt you to harden your heart?
  3. If you’ve chosen to deaden the pain of a past event, how has it affected your relationship with God or others?
  4. What choices do you need to make in order to keep your heart soft?

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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Why Doesn’t God Punish Evil People?

Across the street from where I grew up lived the president of a moderately large international oil company. After a healthy business year and, I’m sure, a sizable bonus, the man decided he to build a swimming pool in his backyard. Unfortunately, his yard was too small, so he waited until his next door neighbor left on a two week vacation—then he called in the work crews who built the pool, partly on his neighbor’s lawn. The oil company president was confident that his pockets were deeper than his neighbor’s if he was taken to court.

Do you ever get frustrated when evil people flourish? Take North Korea, for instance. The country’s long line of narcissistic dictator’s have strangled the life out of their people. Joseph Stalin was responsible for killing more people in the Soviet Union than Adolf Hitler killed Jews, yet he died of natural causes.

Do you ever find the prosperity of the evil unsettling? I do. Especially when they impinge upon my life.

So why doesn’t God punish them?

That, my friends, is our topic of discussion in our daily Bible conversation. Please join us.


Jeremiah 42:1-47:7
2 Timothy 2:1-3:17
Psalm 92:1-94:23
Proverbs 26:3-8


Jeremiah 42:1-47:7. The beginning of our reading continues the narrative following the destruction of Jerusalem. After mocking him and punishing him, the people approached Jeremiah for a word from the Lord. I’m sure Jeremiah was thinking, Finally! The people are listening! But notice: Jeremiah waited 10 days before God finally spoke to him. God isn’t in a hurry.

So how did the people respond to Jeremiah’s words? They accused him of lying. How often do we reject anything we don’t want to hear—even if it’s from God? After Jeremiah told them NOT to go to Egypt, they went anyway and took him with them.

So what happens? Like Jeremiah said, King Nebuchadnezzar invades Egypt.

2 Timothy 2:1-3:17. Following Friday’s theme about the importance of mentoring, Paul instructs Timothy, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2). Paul was a leadership genius. He was constantly looking for ways to multiply himself. Paul instructed Timothy to lead in such a way that the people learning from him would be able to pass it on to others. So Paul was speaking to the fourth generation beyond himself. Note to self: when training leaders, right from the beginning train them to train others.

Second Timothy 2:13 has carried me through many hardships: “If we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” The fact is, Jesus can’t reject us when he lives in us. It’s like rejecting himself! But also, I so often convince myself that I’m holding on to Jesus when he, in fact, is holding on to me.

Proverbs 26:3-8. “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes” (Proverbs 26:4–5). These two verses have always confused me because they seem to contradict each other. So which one is right? They both are. As a general rule, answering a fool according to his folly (i.e. “No you didn’t!” “Yes you did”) will make you the fool too. But at times, engaging the fool is important, for example, when someone might be harmed.

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The running theme in today’s reading accentuates the prosperity and success of the evil. Johanan sought Jeremiah’s help in hearing from God and then rejected it. Then he transported Jeremiah down to Egypt against his wishes. The psalmist complains about evil people in Psalm 94: “How long will the wicked, O Lord, how long will the wicked be jubilant?” (Psalm 94:3)

Yet two passages in Psalms 92 and 94 bring things into perspective:

  1. The end of this life is not the end. The psalmist writes, “For surely your enemies, O Lord…will perish; all evildoers will be scattered” (Psalm 92:9). Evil people may flourish. Criminals may still get away with their crimes. Dishonest employers may experience financial success without getting caught. Philanderers may continue to cheat on their spouses. But the end of this life is not the end. In fact, this life pales in comparison to eternity—and judgment will come.
  2. Discipline is a sign of God’s love. It might seem that evil people who go unpunished in this life are the ones whom God blesses. But the psalmist reminds us, “Blessed is the man you discipline, O Lord” (Psalm 94:12). Getting caught is a blessing from God because it gives us an opportunity to change and make restitution for our deeds. Unrestrained evil, on the other hand, can be interpreted as a sign of the lack of God’s blessing.

If you’re experiencing pain or frustration at the hands of an evil person, you can find encouragement in Paul’s words: “The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops” (2 Timothy 2:6). Working hard and persevering will bring a harvest…but it requires a waiting period before we get to enjoy the fruit of our labor.

After building the swimming pool, the wealthy family across the street began experiencing a host of health problems, including a cancer diagnosis which eventually took the oil company president’s life. But before he died, he lost his job through a hostile takeover of his company. Their next five years were fraught with hardship, pain, and poverty. The family quietly moved out of their house with hardly a penny to their names. I wouldn’t want to make a direct correlation between the man’s decision to take advantage of his neighbor and his multitude of problems, but the timing seemed pretty peculiar.

All that to say: the last chapter hasn’t been written. And remember that this life isn’t the last chapter. In the end, evil will be vanquished and God’s righteousness will prevail!


  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. To what extent do you live in the knowledge that the end of this life is not the end?
  3. Do you believe that evil will be vanquished and righteousness will prevail? Why or why not?

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


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The Domino Effect

When I was a kid, I used to play dominos. Not the game—I used to stack up the dominos one in front of the other and build an elaborate trail leading in numerous directions. Then, with one simple touch, I started a chain reaction affecting hundreds of other dominos.

Think about it: one domino affected hundreds of others. In the video above, you’ll see the power of one domino on over 4 million.

And you can do the same thing.

Please join us and learn how in our daily Bible conversation!


Jeremiah 39:1-41:18
2 Timothy 1:1-18
Psalm 90:1-91:16
Proverbs 26:1-2


Jeremiah 39:1-41:18. We step away from Jeremiah’s prophecies to read about the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C., which Jeremiah had prophesied. Apparently, King Nebuchadnezzar had heard about Jeremiah advice to Zedekiah to surrender without a fight, so he treated him well.

2 Timothy 1:1-18. During the reign of Roman Emperor Nero, Paul was thrown in prison. In contrast to his previous imprisonment where he stayed in a rented house (Acts 28:30), this time Paul was stuck in a cold dungeon (2 Timothy 4:13) and chained like a common criminal (2 Timothy 1:16; 2:9). Likely Paul’s last epistle, he wrote this because he was lonely and wanted to ensure that his churches were okay.

Paul also wanted to encourage Timothy to pastor his churches with confidence: “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:6-7).

Notice those last few words, because they apply to us, too. God has already given us a spirit of power, love and self-discipline. How do we know that? Because the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have made a permanent dwelling place in us! Fear doesn’t need to rule us.

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With the end of his life close at hand, Paul began reflecting on his life. Quite often as we get older, our deepest values rise to the surface. So while sitting in a dungeon with chains that limited his ability to even get comfortable, Paul wrote to Timothy, “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Timothy 1:5).

The Domino Effect.

Paul knew Timothy’s grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice well enough to identify the sincere faith that had passed from generation to generation. The word “sincere” is translated literally as “unhypocritical.” The three family members shared a common authenticity. More than a genetic trait, it was character quality that Timothy gained from spending time with his mother who spent time with her mother. This was mentoring in action.

Then at the end of the chapter Paul returns to the theme of mentoring: “What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:13). This time, Paul wasn’t referring to Timothy’s family, he was referring to himself. Paul was Timothy’s mentor, too. Timothy was the product of numerous people who invested themselves in him.

A key reason why Christianity still exists nearly two thousand years after Paul wrote these words is because men and women like Paul and Lois invested themselves in the lives of the people around them. They passed on their faith, their character, their life to younger men and women. Like a stack of dominos, if you are a follower of Jesus, you are benefitting TODAY from the influence of thousands, if not millions, of Christians who have gone before you.

The greatest investment you could ever make is to invest yourself in other people. You don’t need an instruction manual, you don’t even need an agenda to follow. Just find someone whose heart is open to you, someone with whom you can build a relationship. Then tip the domino: live life together. Meet for coffee. Play tennis. Sit together at church. Ask lots of questions. Talk about your hopes, fears, failures—in other words, be authentic. Just like Lois, Eunice, and Timothy.

Don’t think you have it together enough to be a mentor? Welcome to the club. It’s not about you. It’s about Christ who lives in you. That’s why it’s also good to find someone who can mentor you. Finding a good mentor will make you a a more sincere follow of Jesus.

Imagine what the church would be like if believers in Jesus intentionally invested in one other like Timothy experienced.

It would start a chain reaction that would change the world.

And it begins with the tip of just one domino.


  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. Who from your past has invested in your life? What difference did those people make? What character qualities did you glean from them?
  3. If you don’t already have one, who could be a mentor to you today?
  4. Who could use a mentor like you?

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

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How Much Do You Need To Make To Be Happy?

Last month, the Wall Street Journal reported that the perfect salary for happiness is US$75,000 a year. This is based on a Gallup poll conducted between 2008 and 2009.

Yet that number seems incredibly arbitrary. Do people in poverty-stricken countries need to make US$75,000 a year to be happy? In those cultures, they would be considered rich. And what about past generations—did this rule apply, with inflation adjusted numbers?

In my travels to Mozambique on the continent of Africa, my friends who all lived well below the US poverty line seemed every bit as happy as any of my friends in America.

How much do you really need to make a year to be happy?

Please join us in today’s daily Bible conversation.


Jeremiah 37:1-38:28
1 Timothy 6:1-21
Psalm 89:38-52
Proverbs 25:28


Jeremiah 37:1-38:28. The life of a prophet certainly isn’t glorious. First, Jeremiah is beaten by the king’s officials, then the king asks Jeremiah for an encouraging word from God. Jeremiah pleads for protection from the king’s officials, and the king grants his request…for awhile. The king then allows the officials to do with Jeremiah as they please, so they throw him into a muddy cistern where he’s left to die. Then at the request of another official in the royal palace, the king orders 30 men to pull Jeremiah from he mud. Finally, King Zedekiah sends for Jeremiah again. We like prophets when they tell us what we want to hear and we don’t like them when they tell us what wee don’t want to hear.

Proverbs 25:28. “Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control. ” Here’s the Klassen updated paraphrase of this verse: “Like a computer without a firewall is a person who lacks self-control.” Without self-control, we live with the constant threat of attack—not only in the form of temptation, but from an outright assault from Satan.

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Do you ever lay in bed at night and wonder what your life would be like if you were rich? I admit that I do. But at this point in my life, I doubt riches will ever find me.

Even if it did, though, Paul’s words in today’s reading keeps things in perspective. He writes, “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:9). What are some of those traps?

  • Indebtedness and bankruptcy
  • Workaholism
  • Broken marriages and families as a result of the above
  • Spiritual anorexia

You don’t recognize the last malady? Actually, it’s a phrase that just hit me as I thought about how we can replace spiritual food with activity and the pursuit of a better life. Scripture gives it another word that isn’t so sexy: idolatry.

What we think is the “better” life can lead to a life of spiritual destitution. It’s kind of like eating candy bars at every meal instead of the solid food that comes from an intimate relationship with Jesus.

While US$75,000 a year can bring a measure of happiness, I know plenty of people at that income level who aren’t happy—and besides, no one can ensure they will be able to maintain that for the rest of their lives. Paul describes riches and wealth as “uncertain.”

Happiness is so fleeting. It’s dependent on an infinite number of variables ranging from good health to making a specific amount of money. And strangely enough, Scripture never promises happiness nor does it offer happiness as a worthy pursuit.

But Scripture does offer us a worthy pursuit: “But…flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:11 italics added). Notice that none of these qualities involve the accumulation of income or stuff. In fact, it doesn’t even involve sound financial stewardship.

When I lay in bed and consider what my life would be like if I were wealthy, I remember Paul’s words: “But godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6). If I were wealthy, I’d probably decide that I need more in order to be happy. But godliness and contentment affords me a meaningful life regardless of my income level.


  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. What does contentment look like in your life?
  3. What prevents you from living content?

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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Because Great-Grandpa Said So

My dad’s dad’s name was Harold Eugene Scott. Grandpa stood about halfway between five and six feet tall. He wore bluejean overalls, had a missing index finger from working in the mines, and cracked jokes at the dinner table. I liked him. But I don’t really remember much else about him. I only saw him twice after my dad passed away in 1967. Unfortunately I have no idea what rules of life he lived by or what he expected of his children and grandchildren.

Can you imagine any modern family still living by strict commands laid down by a great-great-great grandfather three hundred years before? Obviously such a scenario is beyond my reckoning.

But it’s not beyond God’s.

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)

Jeremiah 35:1-36:32

1 Timothy 5:1-25

Psalm 89:14-37

Proverbs 25:25-27

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1 Timothy 5:1-25: Paul was famous for his “household codes.” These are the lists of mandated or recommended behaviors Paul often includes in his letters. This chapter is a very good example. They are called “household codes” because the church in its beginnings focused on the home and family. This was long before the modern church reflected institutionalism through bylaws and constitutions. The church would be wise to move back to those family roots.

Not only are these household codes rich for showing us what God expects of us, but they show us that the early church was relational not institutional. All of these codes have to do with relationships. How the young should treat the old, fathers children, bosses workers, families widows, etc.

Yet we often preach, teach and study them as abstract behaviors. They are not. They are practical ways for us to fulfill Jesus’ command for us to love one another. This is why Paul tells Timothy that anyone who does not provide for his family is worse than an unbeliever. Believers in Christ love from the family out.


Obeying God’s direction, Jeremiah invites the Recabites, the sons of Jonadab to a wine tasting. He has prepared a room in the temple building. Tables are set. Silver wine chalices stand ready. Servants fill bowls with fine wine.

“Drink some wine,” Jeremiah invites. Imagine his embarrassment when Jonadab’s great-great-great grandsons say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

I wish we had a video of this botched gala. Would we see Jeremiah shoot God a questioning glance? Or was he used to God commanding him to do really strange things? After the party did Jeremiah drop to his knees and cry out, “Why me, Lord? Why tell me to invite a bunch of teetotalers to a wine tasting?”

Later God tells him that this whole party was a lark, a living illustration of what obedience and faithfulness looks like. Something Israel has failed in.

Little did Jeremiah know that some three hundred years before Jonadab had commanded his family to never drink wine, live only in tents, and not plant crops. How could Jeremiah know such a thing? And even if he did know, how could he imagine they would actually keep that command? Not many of us would. Obedience such as that is rare. Did each new generation question and argue?

“Why, grandfather?”

“Because your great-grandfather Jonadab said so. He believed we should live as nomads, loose in this world because we belong to another.”

I wonder if God gave Jonadab the idea. Though not Hebrew, Jonadab (a decendent of Moses’ father-in-law Jethro) was a believer and these commands mirror the Jewish Nazarite vow (see Sampson) and God’s desire for his people to depend on him. Was this God’s plan for these amazing Recabites? As each generation of Jonadab’s decendent’s struggled to resist the pull of the culture around them and keep these commands, did God nurture this rare faithfulness just so after three hundred years he could invite them to a party to celebrate their steadfastness as a way to highlight Israel’s lack?

Only God knows. But it would be just like him. God never wastes a good opportunity to teach us, to show us how good life can be when we align ourselves with him and his will. Even if it takes hundreds of years.

In the end God rewards the Recabites. God decrees they would never “fail to have a man to serve” the Lord. Commentator Matthew Henry suggests the Recabites can still be found living separate in the desert to this day.

But wouldn’t having your life be a living picture of a right relationship with God be enough of a reward? Imagine that if one day, after years of obediently trudging God’s road, he invited you to a wine tasting party and at the end said, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Imagine that?

  1. What do these for passage have in common?
  2. What spoke to you?

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


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