Monthly Archives: October 2010

Exercise Naked

Did you know that two thousand years ago, Olympic athletes were required to compete naked? The Greeks enjoyed the aesthetic aspects of athletics, so they preferred watching the sculpted human body in competition–unobstructed by anything.

But did you know that the Bible tells us to exercise naked?

Join us in today’s daily Bible conversation to discover why…and how.

TODAY’S READING

Jeremiah 33:1-34:22
1 Timothy 4:1-16
Psalm 89:1-13
Proverbs 25:23-24

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

Jeremiah 33:1-34:22. Jeremiah 33 offers a peculiar prophecy. It begins as a promise of destruction and concludes with a promise. Beginning in verse 14, God promises that the lineage of David will be re-established as “David will never fail to have a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel” (verse 17). The reign of King David’s throne came to an end with the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C., but remember that Jesus came from the line of David. And to this day, Jesus still reigns.

1 Timothy 4:1-16. Paul advises Timothy, “Watch your life and doctrine closely” (1 Timothy 4:16). Admittedly, some people can get overly rigid in their theology, but what we believe really does matter. Injecting our opinions into our theology is dangerous. In my experience, theological renegades easily become heretics. Many young pastors, in the effort to be accepted and respected by their peers, sacrifice doctrine on the altar of cool. Perhaps that’s why Paul gave this instruction to young Timothy.

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

THE WORD MADE FRESH

“Train yourself to be godly,” Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 4:7b-8. “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”

The Greek word for “train” is gymnasia which means “to exercise naked.” This hearkens back to the ancient Olympics. While most commentators avoid this word picture for reasons of propriety, I think something gets lost in the translation.

Notice these words from the writer of Hebrews:

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. Hebrews 12:1 (NASB)

To be honest, when I train—either running or weight lifting—I try to wear as little as possible. Of course, I dress appropriately, but running 6-8-10 miles or lifting weights over my head wearing a jacket and jeans doesn’t work.

The Greek word for “godliness,” eusebeia, means both an internal and external piety. In other words, it’s a deep inward devotion to God that is reflected in our everyday life.

It’s important to point out that godliness and righteousness are not the same. When we confess our sins to God and trust in Jesus to forgive us, we are made righteous. Our sins are forgiven and we’re brought into a right relationship with God. Godliness, however, is the process of bringing the spiritual reality of who we are (righteous) into congruence with how we think and act.

To become godly men and women, we must first realize that godliness doesn’t naturally occur on its own. It requires exercise and training. And we can only do this by exercising naked—throwing off every encumbrance that hinders our walk with God. This includes ungodly habits, compromising relationships and influences, and death-giving ways of thinking. We replace these destructive habits with life-giving habits that look like the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.

The pursuit of godliness also requires that we eat healthy. Generous amounts of Bible study, meditation, and supplements of spiritual reading (especially the classics) will give us the energy we need.

Why do we do it? Because it brings benefits to us both now and in the life to come. I love being in shape. It helps me think much clearer and it gives me greater endurance. In the same way, godliness frees me to live with a clean conscience, to think as God would think, and it gives me the strength to say “no” to my flesh. And it also prepares me for the life—the true life—to come.

Best of all, training ourselves to be godly isn’t an end in itself because it launches us into a fuller relationship with God.

CONVERSATION STARTERS

  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. What spiritual exercises have you found most helpful?

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

www.bibleconversation.com

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

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Read Any Good Love Letters Lately?

 

Robert Browning

 

 

Elizabeth Barret Browning

 

Robert and Elizabeth exchanged over five hundred letters before their kindred passion for words and writing blossomed into a love for one another. Nearly a year after Elizabeth received Robert’s introductory letter, the two met in person and began courting. But Elizabeth’s father vehemently disapproved of their relationship. Undaunted, Robert proposed and the couple eloped to Italy to be married. In Italy their love for one another and for writing grew. So was born one of the world’s greatest love stories between two of the world’s greatest poets.

God too has engaged in a letter writing campaign to his beloved, you and me.

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 31:27-32:44

1 Timothy 3:1-16

Psalm 88:1-18

Proverbs 25:20-22

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

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

1 Timothy 3:1-16: This list of leadership qualifications is intriguing and not as easy to apply as we may wish. Often biblical interpreters focus on certain aspects but not on others. Based on this passage many churches insist elders and deacons must be male, married, but not divorced. But they are less stringent about leaders not being lovers of money, managing their families and having children who treat them with respect. And how do we measure how much temperance and self-control one must possess in order to qualify for leadership?

Is this an exhaustive and absolute list? If so, not many of us qualify, male or not. Or is it more of a measuring stick, something to which we call our leaders to and as leaders we ourselves aspire to?

THE WORD MADE FRESH

These four passages vary vastly. Jeremiah is poetic, otherworldly and prophetic: “‘The days are coming when I will plant the house of Israel,’ declares the Lord.” 1 Timothy is propositional and directive: “Now an overseer must be above reproach.” Today’s Psalm is lyrical and personal “May my prayer come before you; turn you ear to my cry.” Our Proverb is practical but highly interpretive: “If your enemy is hungry, give him food.”

These important interpretive differences aside, what is the thread that runs through all of Scripture that we often miss? Like the letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett, this book we call the Bible is filled with God’s love in history, stories, commands, and letters communicating his love for us.

Sweet, rhythmic words drew Elizabeth and Robert to one another. Today their letters and poetry are classics of English literature. Even most school children can quote the first line of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem defining her love for Robert Browning: “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” God asked the question first.

But there is one man Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s words could not touch–her father. After Elizabeth and Robert eloped, her father never spoke to her again. Still Elizabeth never gave up her hope for reconciliation or her belief in the power of words. She wrote her father nearly every week for ten years. He never replied. How could her father ignore a love communicated so powerfully that the rest of the world considers even these letters classics? He never read a single word Elizabeth wrote him! In a large box, after ten years, he returned to her each letter unopened.

And so a love that moved thousands never affected one she held so dear.

And so it is with God! God gave us a book filled with love stories, love songs, and love poems. Through the rhythm of human history God wrote his poem to us. Every page of this book is filled with the record of Gods desperate desire to win our hearts. In one story God compares his heart sickness over our broken relationship with him to that of a husband whose wife sells herself again and again to the highest bidder. In Isaiah God compares himself to a mother who will nurse us and dandle us on her knee. “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you,” God croons. Through Jeremiah God sings, “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” In the New Testament Jesus stands over Jerusalem lamenting, “I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.” And the Apostle Paul prefigures Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s How Do I Love Thee? poem by wishing we could “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.”

But just like with Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her father, much of this letter goes unread or, at least, misunderstood. Despite millions of Bibles being sold each year (it is still the number one best seller of all time) and hotels hiding Bibles in bedside drawers and scholars and scoffers arguing over its message, few of us have read and understood God’s love letter to us. A comedienne on The Prairie Home Companion radio show warned listeners not to use the maps in the backs of their Bibles when traveling in Israel–because they’re out of date.

And therein lies the problem. We often use the Bible as God never intended. It is not a hammer to pummel those who disagree with us. It is not a proof text for our personal choices. It is not a science textbook or a batch of outlandish myths. The Bible is a series of stories of a Lover’s pursuit. We will never get the message leaving the letter unread. As Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote in her poem Aurora Leigh:

“Earth’s crammed with heaven,

And every common bush afire with God;

But only he who sees takes off his shoes;

The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”

Have you read any good love letters lately?

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

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

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If You Traded It All For One Thing

Think for a moment. If you could trade everything in your life for one thing—only one thing—what would it be?

In 2003, Finger Eleven released a song entitled “One Thing” to overwhelming success. The chorus of the song goes:

If I traded it all, if I gave it all away for one thing
Just for one thing
If I sorted it out if I knew all about this one thing
Wouldn
’t that be something

Your answer to the question says a great deal about your heart. For some people, that “one thing” is a safe life. For others it’s a painless life. Still others, it’s riches and leisure.

But is that what we really want? Really?

Please join me as we discuss this in our daily Bible conversation.
TODAY’S READING

Jeremiah 28:1-31:26
1 Timothy 1:1-2:15
Psalm 86:1-87:7
Proverbs 25:17-19

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

Jeremiah 28:1-31:26. God issues a message to the exiles: Settle down. Start your families. Stop waiting for deliverance and live as normal as possible. Then he offers this assurance:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. ” Jeremiah 29:11

Even in  your most dire situation, God hasn’t forgotten about you. He knows his plans for you—and they include hope and a future.

1 Timothy 1:1-2:15. After Paul and Barnabas’s acrimonious split regarding the involvement of John Mark in their travels, Paul brought another protégé under his care. Paul felt a deep affection for Timothy, his “true son in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2). In  this first of two letters, Paul was giving instructions to young Timothy who is now pastoring the great church in Ephesus.

Paul’s initial instruction is important: stay in Ephesus and command “certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer” (1 Timothy 1:3). The doctrines we believe are important, regardless what critics inside and outside the church say. Throughout the Pastoral Epistles (1 Timothy through Philemon) you’ll find the word “doctrine” appear again and again.

Timothy is then given a trustworthy saying: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1:15). Pastors need to deal with their congregations as fellow sinners. Unfortunately, not all of them have taken Paul’s words to heart.

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

THE WORD MADE FRESH

All of us were created for one thing. Like a square peg in a round hole, when we aspire for the wrong thing or for more than one thing, we experience a discontinuity in our lives.

David was described as a man after God’s heart (1 Samuel 13:14). In Psalm 86:11, he journaled his “one thing”:

“Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.”

Do you sense the innocence in this prayer? It begins with an attitude of humility that says, God, I don’t know you or your ways nor will I discover them on my own. “Teach me your way, O Lord.”

One of the most arrogant phrases in the English language is “I know.” How often does God speak to our hearts and we answer “I know!”—and then we do our own thing anyway.

David begins with the humble acknowledgement that he doesn’t know God. The only way we can walk in truth—to live in alignment with God’s desires—is to sit at the feet of our heavenly Father and glean from him by spending time in the Word and meditative prayer.

Then David prays, Give me an undivided heart that I may fear your name. A divided heart is a heart with multiple loyalties, affections, and desires. An undivided heart is singularly focused on one desire. It’s one thing versus multiple things. And David chose well because his one thing was knowing God’s ways which was rooted in knowing God. The fruit of the undivided, God-directed life is a life that that fears, reveres God and takes him seriously. But it’s also the life that enjoys God and revels in his pleasure.

Not coincidentally, God spoke through Jeremiah in today’s reading, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. ” (Jeremiah 29:13, NIV)

Quite often we desire one thing from God, but not God. We want his hope, his comfort, his provision, his protection…but we don’t desire him. Yet when we desire him apart from what he can do for us, we still get everything.

What divides your heart?

CONVERSATION STARTERS

  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. What is your “one thing”?
  3. What do you want your “one thing” to be?

What needs to change in your life in order to bring the two into alignment?

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

www.bibleconversation.com

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

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What Do You Do When God Loses The Election?

If I didn’t know better, I’d think every political candidate should be in jail.

At least that’s what I’d think if I believed every political ad on television. Political mud-slinging is at an all-time high in my state of Colorado. Democrat Michael Bennet and Republican Ken Buck have attracted unprecedented amounts of money as both national political parties have determined that this particualr race is pivotal to control of the US Senate. Ironically, both sides complain about the mud-slinging that’s coming from the other side.

If you live in another country or you’re rusty on your civics, remember that only 100 people serve in the Senate. Currently the Democrats own a 59-41 advantage over their foes, which means that a change in only 10 seats—a very real possibility given the current anti-Obama climate among some—would change the political landscape in our country.

Which begs the question: what do you do if your candidate loses? I mean, if your political party lost by a landslide and the leadership grew increasingly hostile to your views, what would you do?

Move to another country?

Pray and ask God for deliverance?

Perhaps you’d even wonder how God could lose the election.

Welcome to today’s topic in our daily Bible conversation!

TODAY’S READING

Jeremiah 26:1-27:22
2 Thessalonians 3:1-18
Psalm 85:1-13
Proverbs 25:16

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

Jeremiah 26:1-27:22. God instructed Jeremiah to give yet another message to Judah calling for repentance so that “perhaps they will listen and each will turn from his evil way” (Jeremiah 26:3). The Old Testament prophets represented God’s relentless attempt to call his people back into relationship with him. The purpose of the prophets wasn’t to call down fire from heaven to destroy God’s people. Their purpose was to restore the people’s relationship with God. This perspective gives us a window into God’s relentless love toward us.

2 Thessalonians 3:1-18. Paul instructs the Thessalonian church not to associate with people who are idle. Apparently, some people in the congregation needed financial help from the church but weren’t willing to work themselves. Instead they were busybodies. This is a problem in congregations even today.

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

THE WORD MADE FRESH

He was a pagan king. By his orders his troops destroyed Jerusalem and deported the best and brightest people to Babylon, where they served as his vassals. While his troops were at it, they also stole all the sacred implements from the temple. So brutal was he that after his troops ransacked Jerusalem, he ordered his men to kill King Zedekiah’s sons in front of their father before blinding the king so that his final visual memory would be that of his sons dying.

This man who was infamous for his temper also ordered the construction of an enormous idol and issued an edict stating that anyone who refused to worship the idol would be thrown into a fiery furnace. And sure enough, when Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego—followers of Yahweh—refused to bow down, they were thrown into the furnace and then miraculously saved.

Without a doubt, King Nebuchadnezzar embodied the prototype of the negative ads we see on television. “If you vote for the other candidate,” we’re told, “you’ll have higher taxes, fewer freedoms, rampant government, corrupt officials, etc.” In other words, you’ll be electing a veritable Nebuchadnezzar. Why, voting for the other candidate is like voting against God’s candidate.

And surely evil King Nebuchadnezzar was an enemy of God himself.

Not so fast.

Today’s reading in Jeremiah chapter 27 should give us pause to reconsider the identity of God’s candidate. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God told the people of Judah:

Now I will hand all your countries over to my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; I will make even the wild animals subject to him. Jeremiah 27:6

Did you catch that? God called Nebuchadnezzar his servant. If you think something got lost in the translation, God reinforced the message:

If, however, any nation or kingdom will not serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon or bow its neck under his yoke, I will punish that nation with the sword, famine and plague, declares the Lord, until I destroy it by his hand. Jeremiah 27:8

Resisting this pagan king meant resisting God.

What gives?

Amidst a political landscape where each side claims that voting for the other candidate is akin to voting for the Antichrist, it’s helpful to know that God uses whoever he wants to accomplish his will. This is also a good reminder that if the other side wins, it isn’t the end of the world.

God is always in control. Always. And God’s ultimate will is always accomplished. Always.

In the short run, the destruction of Jerusalem seemed like the end of the world. But in the long run, it broke Israel from its worship of foreign gods. And it also prepared Israel for the long-awaited Messiah, Jesus Christ.

So if your candidate loses in an upcoming election, remember that God is still in control–just like he was before the election. And remember that God works with a long-term view on world affairs (and your life).

CONVERSATION STARTERS

  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. Do you worry when the other candidate or political party wins an election? Why? How does it affect your trust in God?
  3. When your candidate or political party wins the election, do you find it easier to trust in God’s control of the country? Why?

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

www.bibleconversation.com

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

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When is Jesus Coming Again? Or Has He Already?

Wearing my dress whites, I stood at parade rest on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Kitty Hawk. The sun heated the sky into a skillet gray. Sweat beaded on my face and threatened to soil my uniform. I was one of thousands of sailors enduring a full dress inspection. An Admiral slowly worked his way through our ranks randomly stopping in front one hapless sailor after another nailing each for uniform infractions.

Somehow I knew I would attract his attention and that I would fail inspection. Failing held dire consequences. The ridicule and punishment would be severe. Without moving my head, I gazed off into the cloudless sky and prayed that Jesus would suddenly appear in the sky and yank me (and any of the other Christians  present) out of this tribulation.

I was eighteen, unhappy, a seaman in the Navy, and a believer in something Christians call the Rapture. The Rapture is a belief that somewhere near the beginning of the end of the world (pre-tribulation) Jesus will appear in the sky and remove the Church from the coming wrath of God and tribulation.

As I predicted, I failed my inspection. And on top of that, either I was left behind or Jesus did not come back that day back in the 1970s.

I hope it’s the latter. If that’s the case, when is Jesus coming back?

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 23:21-25:38

2 Thessalonians 2:1-17

Psalm 84:1-12

Proverbs 25:15

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

Psalm 84:1-12: Even sparrows and swallows receive God’s care and attention. What does that mean for humans?

Not so much for many of us modern 21st Century humans, I’m afraid. We live too far away from the natural world of the sparrow and the swallow to really know what these agrarian, outdoorsy allusions in Scripture mean.

I call this the curse of air conditioning. Though modern advancements and technology deliver many blessings, they also tend to separate us from the real world and its all too real Creator. Like a child who believes money comes free and unfettered out of automatic teller machines, we believe our protection comes from our amazing technology and our sustenance from the grocery store.

But the “Lord God is a sun and shield” our source of life just as he is for lowly sparrows.

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

THE WORD MADE FRESH

When is Jesus coming back? Jesus said no one but the Father knows, not even Jesus knew at that point. I’m still waiting, though not as impatiently as that day on the Kitty Hawk. I no longer believe in the Pre-Tribulation Rapture, however. Not because of that disappointing day on the flight deck but because, I now understand my belief in the Pre-Tribulation Rapture flowed out a deep misunderstanding of God and my misguided desire to escape trouble and difficulty and pain.

I’m not saying that all who believe in the Pre-Tribulation Rapture do so out of a need to escape pain (though it is a question worth asking ourselves). I know there are biblical passages that can be interpreted to support the Rapture. For example, Paul writes in 2 Thessalonians 2:1: “Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, . . . .” Many interpret the phrase “gathered to” as a reference to Christians being gathered in the air to Jesus and then taken into heaven.

The myriad biblical interpretive nuances (too myriad to discuss here) aside, one major reason I left my Pre-Tribulation Rapture belief behind is that all through Scripture and history God seldom pulls his people out of tribulation or trouble. Sometimes God even led his people into trouble and always–always–walks his people through tribulation. See Abraham, Israel, Moses, David, the prophets, John, Jesus, Peter, Paul, the Church, and Martin Luther for just a few examples. In the end God also turns that trouble into a new story, a new opportunity to walk with God. This focus on God as a rescuer seems to diminish God’s role as redeemer.

And I don’t think I’m straining at gnats in making this theological distinction. If we expect God to rescue us from the ultimate tribulation, why not daily trouble such as a full dress inspection or real, worse trouble. Then what do we do when God doesn’t rescue us? Do we then miss the truth that, though Jesus will be coming back in bodily form, he is also already here in Spirit walking through trouble with us? What we believe about theological ideas such as the Pre-Tribulation Rapture reveal who we believe God is and shape what we expect life to be like.

When is Jesus coming back? In his time, but probably not just in time to rescue his beloved. While we wait, Paul does not want us to be unsettled or alarmed or to be deceived, however. Rather we are to stand fast in Christ. As I look back on that day on the Kitty Hawk flight deck, I realize I was not only immature but also not left behind. Rather I now see God’s grace has been sufficient for me in all and every situation, joyful and painful.

1. Which passage spoke most to you?

2. What did the four have in common?

2. How do you see God in nature?

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

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

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God’s Plan for You: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

In God’s house there are no ashcans. I’ve looked. It’s hard to fathom because my house has a trashcan, decorative of course, in every room. They fill up quickly with garbage, the one sock that failed to escape, leftovers, unmentionables, and reams of paper. Mostly I throw stuff away I can’t figure out what to do with otherwise. I stack papers in a pile marked urgent and then months and even years later, finally frustrated, I chuck it all in the nearest garbage.

Not God. God is the ultimate recycler. It’s like God grew up in the Great Depression and learned to never throw anything out. To God everything seems to hold value. God is the ultimate recycler.

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 22:1-23:20

2 Thessalonians 1:1-12

Psalm 83:1-18

Proverbs 25:11-14

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

THE WORD MADE FRESH

I once heard a young woman share her story. She was kicked out of her family and lived on the streets as a prostitute and nearly died from drug abuse. She felt as if she had been tossed onto the garbage heap of life, as if she belonged there. Then God fished her out. She said because of Jesus she now knows God doesn’t have a garbage can. To God everyone holds value.

It’s hard to fathom because my life sometimes feels like it belongs in the dumper. I have good intentions that in the end seem to hold as much content as whipped cream in an aerosol can. Tasty, but no substance. I preach on love and live on self-centeredness. I pray for faith and nurture fear. Paul admitted to a similar problem, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” I too betray my own deepest desires. It’s then God reminds me he has no trashcan.

Sometimes also, from no particular fault of our own, life seems to crumple us up and toss us in the heap. Most people I’ve talked to have felt that way once or twice. After these painful times, we euphemistically refer to what we carry as baggage when what we really mean is that we still have garbage hanging around our necks and out of our pockets.

What’s one to do with all of this junk? If we can’t chunk it, what can we do with it? Without trashcans our lives would be like the homes of those sad hoarders. Every flat surface is covered with trash, dozens of malnourished cats stare from behind stacks of unread newspapers, the carpet is piled with clothes and bowls and unmentionables.

God never throws anything away. He need not. “God never wastes pain,” a wise friend once told me when I was sitting on a trash heap.

“Thanks,” I snapped.

And how true is that. In God’s hands even garbage holds value.

My life’s pain and even mistakes, under the pressure of God’s sovereign grace, have been recycled into my strength, my hope, my joy. God’s house has no garbage can because God reduces, reuses, and recycles—redeems—it all. Hopelessness and rubbish don’t exist in God’s house. They don’t exist! In Christ’s nail scarred hands garbage becomes treasure. God can embody every scrap of our lives with holiness, goodness, joy, purpose, grace, and forgiveness. It’s not that it all turns out okay in the end. What a meaningless platitude that is. Things in life don’t magically turn out good. God wrestles them—redeems them—into goodness. God works at it, if we allow him.

Paul reminds us, “With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by faith.” God is in the business of transforming trash into treasure, reducing, reusing, and recycling. In God’s house there are no ashcans. He has no use for them.

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

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

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

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Why You Need A Canary In A Cage

Back in the day, miners brought canaries into the mines to monitor the air quality. The canaries chirped and sang all day long, but when carbon monoxide levels—undetectable to humans—rose too high, the birds stopped chirping because they couldn’t breathe or, due to the noxious fumes, they had died. The canaries served as portents of danger.

All of us need canaries who will alert of us danger, but alas, they chirp a lot, make a mess, and their cages can get a bit unwieldy.

But do we have stand-ins for these feathery folk?

Please join us in today’s daily Bible conversation as we explore modern-day canaries.

TODAY’S READING

Jeremiah 19:1-21:14
1 Thessalonians 5:4-28
Psalm 82:1-8
Proverbs 25:9-10

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

Jeremiah 19:1-21:14. Today’s reading gives us a good window into Jeremiah’s dilemma. God called him to be a prophet, giving him prophetic messages which he couldn’t contain. “His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones” (Jeremiah 20:9). Jeremiah didn’t ask for it, in fact, we read a few days ago that he didn’t want to be a prophet. So immediately after prophesying destruction over Jerusalem, Pashhur the chief priest, has Jeremiah beaten and thrown in the stocks. In 20:7-18 we read Jeremiah’s complaint.

In the middle of his grumbling he says, “Sing to the Lord! Give praise to the Lord! He rescues the life of the needy from the hands of the wicked” (Jeremiah 20:13). He probably spoke these words with tongue firmly in cheek.

Ironically enough, as his prophecy of destruction begins taking place, the king sends Passhur the chief priest—the same man who had Jeremiah beaten—to Jeremiah in order to appeal to God to save them. But it was already too late.

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THE WORD MADE FRESH

As Paul concludes his first letter to the Thessalonians, he gives a list of rapid-fire instructions. Four short instructions seem to fall in line with today’s theme:

Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. 1 Thessalonians 5:19–21.

Prophecy is one of those topics that churches tend to avoid. Like a canary cage, they can get a little messy, so they decide to steer clear of it altogether.

Much to their disadvantage.

Prophets operate within the body like that little bird in the cage (although we hope they don’t die when something goes amiss). As a pastor, I’ve learned to monitor the prophets. “Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets,” we read in Amos 3:7.

Prophecy and prophets played a pretty significant role in the early church. In fact, the New Testament uses variations of the word 104 times. Paul encouraged the church in Corinth to stop fixating on tongues and instead desire to prophesy.

Notice that in today’s passage, Paul equated skepticism toward prophecy with putting out the Spirit’s fire (other translations call it “quenching the Spirit).

So who are these prophets and where do we find them? Chances are, they exist in your church (hopefully you attend one). In more exuberant churches—like the ones I attended as a child—they’re pretty easy to identify because they’re given room to speak. In more reserved churches, they’re much more difficult to spot. They often seem to hear from God more clearly than anyone else, or, like the canary, they seem aware of trouble before it presents itself. Sometimes, they even exhibit a capability of knowing something that is about to happen.

At various times, God has used prophetic people to greatly encourage me. While serving on the staff of a large church, I began feeling overwhelmed that my church was going to blow up to pieces. A couple of prophetic people convinced me I wasn’t crazy and helped me navigate my way toward planting a church (with Eugene, my co-blogger).

At one point, while feeling engulfed in fear about the challenges of planting the church, I cried out to God, If you really want me to plant this church, please have Anne call me on the phone this afternoon. Anne is a wonderful woman with an amazing prophetic gift.

Thirty minutes later she called me and said God told her to contact me.

Because the gift of prophecy can be a little eerie, people avoid them—which is why Paul says to accept them. But I especially appreciate the means in which he tells us evaluate them: “Test everything. Hold on to the good.”

This tells us that these modern-day canaries can sometimes get the message wrong–or we may misunderstand them. So why should we value them?

Because God values this gift. And, when it works, he can use it to encourage us, redirect us, and remind us that that he loves us. Deeply.

You can learn more about the gift of prophecy it in chapters 7 and 8 of my book Strange Fire, Holy Fire.

CONVERSATION STARTERS

  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. Describe your experience with the gift of prophecy.
  3. What people in your current spiritual community exhibit prophetic tendencies?

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

www.bibleconversation.com

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

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The Secret To Overcoming Our Addictions

All Bill Wilson needed was one drink for him to be hooked. “I had found the elixir of life,” he wrote. But soon his elixir escorted him down a very dark path as alcohol became the driving influence in his life.

He failed to graduate from law school because he was too drunk to pick up his diploma. So instead, he became a stock speculator and enjoyed success traveling the country with his wife, Lois, evaluating companies for potential investors. Lois, however, had a hidden agenda: she hoped the travel would keep Bill from drinking. However, his constant drinking made business impossible and ruined his reputation.

Four times he was committed to a hospital in hopes that he could find deliverance from his addiction, which he was told would lead to an early death.

Eighteen years after his first drink, he met an old drinking buddy who had been sober for several weeks—something Wilson was unable to do. The influence of his friend led to his sobriety, and their friendship resulted in the formation of Alcoholics Anonymous.

While regularly criticized by the medical community, Alcoholics Anonymous has achieved success far beyond their critics. What is the secret to their success?

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

TODAY’S READING

Jeremiah 16:16-18:23
1 Thessalonians 4:1-5:3
Psalm 81:1-16
Proverbs 25:6-8

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

Jeremiah 16:16-18:23. “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) As western culture moves from modernism to post-modernism, the heart becomes an ever-increasing influence in our beliefs and the decisions we make. We’re told to “follow our heart.” While ignoring our hearts is foolish, we need to remember that our hearts can also lead us astray. In fact, according to this verse, our hearts can deceive us, too.

At the end of our reading (Jeremiah 18:18-23), we see a veiled reference of retaliation toward Jeremiah. He’s been thrown into a pit because he called out the sin of Judah’s leaders. Jeremiah paid a price for obeying God.

1 Thessalonians 4:1-5:3. Paul’s words in 4:1 echo Jeremiah’s choice to obey God: “live in order to please God.” I wrestle with this because my deceptive heart wants to please people or live for myself. In this particular context, Paul is referring to sexual purity. “Avoid sexual immorality” he writes. The Greek word for “sexual immortality”—porneia—applies to sexual acts outside the boundaries of marriage. Our society and deceptive hearts try to convince us that our sexual practices don’t matter. But they do. Paul addresses a root problem underlying our sexual habits. All too often we don’t want to live with self-control. Again, we want to follow our deceptive hearts, which only lead us to destruction—both spiritually but also relationally.

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THE WORD MADE FRESH

In his final hospital stay, Bill Wilson reached the end of himself. While lying in his hospital bed depressed and despairing, he cried out, “I’ll do anything! Anything at all! If there be a God, let him show himself!”

Suddenly, Wilson was engulfed in a sensation of bright light, a feeling of ecstasy, and peace. Not only did he experience an encounter with God Almighty, but he later considered this an important step in following Jesus. He never drank again for the remainder of his life.

This experience provided the foundation to recovery for every alcoholic:

  1. We are powerless over our addiction.
  2. Only a Power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity.
  3. In order to recover from our addiction, we must turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand him.

Originally, Alcoholics Anonymous was a Christian organization, heavily influenced by an intriguing Christian movement called the Oxford Group.

The secret to recovery from addictions should really come as no surprise. God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah, “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength” (Jeremiah 17:5–6).

We want to save ourselves. Heal ourselves. Relying on outside help is an admittance of weakness. We’d like to overcome our sins and demons on our own. Yet the truth is, we can’t save ourselves. Nor can we heal ourselves and make ourselves better. Friends are important, but they can’t cure us. Our help only comes from above:

But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit. Jeremiah 17:7–8

When we battle addictions or demons like depression or discouragement, we must recognize that the solution to our problems never come from within: “Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise” (Jeremiah 17:14).

Sometimes working harder at our problems only makes them worse. Surrendering, working less, yielding to God, helps us realize that true change can only come from God.

CONVERSATION STARTERS

  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. In what areas of your life are you trying to hold together on your own?
  3. What prevents you from surrendering them to God?
  4. What lies do you choose to believe?

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

www.bibleconversation.com

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

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What UFOs And Other Unsolved Mysteries Tell Us About God

When I was twelve or thirteen years of age, I walked outside my house and noticed a strange flying object in the air. I knew it wasn’t an airplane because it hovered in the sky, but I also knew it wasn’t a helicopter because it made no sound. The lights at the bottom of the object moved back and forth like waves in the ocean.

After watching it float away, I ran into the house and called the local police department. Of course, my report wasn’t taken seriously, but I’ve never forgotten the experience.

Was it a UFO? I’m not sure. But I’m not alone in reporting a UFO sighting.

Since 1987, Unsolved Mysteries has appeared on American television in various forms. Originally hosted by actor by Robert Stack, the program explored unexplains criminal cases, lost loves, alternative theories of history, and paranormal matters like UFO sightings. The video above reports on a few recent UFO reports.

Why has this program lasted for over 23 years? In part, because something in us longs to explain the unexplainable.

Please join us in today’s Bible conversation as we explore unsolved mysteries in the Bible.

TODAY’S READING

Jeremiah 12:1-16:15
1 Thessalonians 1:1-3:13
Psalm 79:1-80:19
Proverbs 24:30-25:5

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

1 Thessalonians 1:1-3:13. People in Thessalonica were giving their lives to Jesus through the ministry of Paul, Timothy, and Silas. Unfortunately, their efforts were prematurely curtailed when persecution hit and the men were forced to leave in the middle of the night. You can read the background on this epistle in Acts 17. First Thessalonians was the men’s attempt to bring some closure to their ministry in Thessalonica and answer some of the people’s questions, especially concerning the resurrection.

Notice in 1 Thessalonians 1:3 that Paul refers to faith, hope, and love, which he also uses to conclude 1 Corinthians 13 (1 Corinthians 13:13, the love chapter). It’s no coincidence that he most likely wrote his letter to the Thessalonians from Corinth.

Psalm 79:1-80:19. Psalm 79 was obviously written long after David—most likely following the invasion of Babylon.

Proverbs 24:30-25:5. In yesterday’s post, I intimated that the idol which tempts me most is the one involving working too much. Well, earlier in my life I wrestled with workoholism’s nemesis: laziness. Years ago, I was unemployed and unsure what I wanted to do with my life. I sensed a strong call to pastoral ministry but felt unmotivated to take action on anything. But whenever I laid down on the couch to take a nap, Proverbs 24:33-34 rang through my head: “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest— and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man.” Immediately I would jump up and continue my job search. God used this Scripture passage to motivate me.

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

THE WORD MADE FRESH

Unidentified flying objects are just one of the many mysteries that garner our attention. Attempting to explain the unexplainable has resulted in countless scientific breakthroughs, especially over the last 150 years.

“It is the glory of God to conceal a matter,” Solomon wrote in Proverbs 25:2. “To search out a matter is the glory of kings.”

Did you catch the first part of the proverb? It is the glory of God to conceal a matter. Why is it the “glory of God”?

Because exploring unsolved mysteries proves to us how little we know about ourselves and creation. Unsolved mysteries force us to accept the reality that we will never completely understand everything, a reminder that God is God and we are not.

And when we finally make a discovery? We realize the depths of God’s wisdom. Scientists frequently acknowledge how ordered our universe is. So our discoveries ultimately lead us to our creator.

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!

Romans 11:33

Some unsolved mysteries will never be solved, mysteries like senseless tragedy and unexpected pain. In that respect, those mysteries afford us the opportunity to draw near to God for solace and meaning. And even in those moments, God can give us a glimpse of how great, how loving, how just he is.

So I encourage you, make peace with the fact that mystery will always be around us—but don’t hesitate to explore those mysteries, which can ultimately lead us to God.

CONVERSATION STARTERS

  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. Describe a time when your exploration of an unsolved mystery led you to God?
  3. What mysteries exist in your life that still need to be explored?

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

www.bibleconversation.com

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

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What Our Respectable (And Not-So-Respectable) Addictions Say About Us

The Japanese call it karoshi–“death by overwork”– and it’s estimated to cause 1,000 deaths in Japan per year, nearly 5% of that country’s stroke and heart attack deaths in employees under age 60 according to WebMD. Other “respectable” addictions include the dependence on pain killers, television, food, computers, technology, video games, FaceBook, Twitter, spending, even exercise.

But whether respectable or not, our addictions point to a deeper issue that has plagued humanity for thousands of years.

Please join us as we discuss what our respectable additions say about us in our daily Bible conversation.

TODAY’S READING

Jeremiah 10:1-11:23
Colossians 3:18-4:18
Psalm 78:56-72
Proverbs 24:28-29

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

Jeremiah 10:1-11:23. Over and over we read in the prophetic books about the futility of worshipping idols. “Like a scarecrow in a melon patch, their idols cannot speak; they must be carried because they cannot walk. Do not fear them; they can do no harm nor can they do any good” (Jeremiah 10:5). Our modern-day idols fare little better (more on that just below).

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

THE WORD MADE FRESH

An overarching theme in the Old Testament prophetic books is God’s criticism of Israel’s idolatry. In fact, in Rule #1 of the 10 Commandments God says, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). God wasn’t content with any competitors for the affection of his people. Most amazing to me is that the Israelites in Moses’ day witnessed some pretty awesome acts of God:

  • They watched Egypt suffer through nine plagues while none of them affected the Israelites.
  • Through Moses, God parted the Red Sea and the people crossed on dry land.
  • God provided manna and quail for the Israelites to eat and water to drink in the middle of the desert.
  • A cloud by day and a fire by night led them across the wilderness.

Yet while Moses received the Law from God on Mt. Sinai, the people were throwing a raucous party replete with orgies and idol worship. So, God waited for an entire generation to die in the wilderness before starting over with his people as they entered the Promised Land.

Nevertheless, the people struggled with idols. Over and over again.

Fast forward 800 years to Jeremiah’s day and the same problem persisted. Israel continued to place their trust in idols carved from wood and stone.

So what ever happened to idolatry?

It exchanged objects of worship but the practices remain the same even to this day. It seems to me that the core of idol worship consists of anything that prevents us from completely relying on God.

It’s no mistake that Paul reminded his Colossian readers that their true employer was Jesus (Colossians 3:23–24). Our paycheck may come through our employer, but God is our ultimate provider.

But when I think about it, isn’t that what an addiction is?

Years ago, the Israelites offered child sacrifices to brutal gods like Molech in order to manipulate their god into granting their request. Today, we sacrifice our families for our jobs and a bigger income (the idol that tempts me most). Instead of engaging in a quick fling with a temple prostitute, we try to stuff the God-shaped hole in our hearts with addictive behavior. Or, we throw an extra dollar or two (or Rand, for our South African friends) into the offering in hopes that God will multiply it and make us rich.

Yet all of these practices betray the central problem: we don’t trust that God is enough. Our addictions try to convince us that God isn’t enough, that other alternatives exist.

The New Testament word for relying on God is faith—and without faith it’s impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).

Do you want to be a man or woman of faith? Do you want to eliminate the idols from your life? Then take inventory of anything that prevents you from completely relying on God.

CONVERSATION STARTERS

  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. In your opinion, what modern-day idols vie for people’s allegiance?
  3. What modern-day idols vie for YOUR allegiance?
  4. To what extent is God more than enough for you?

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

www.bibleconversation.com

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

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