Monthly Archives: January 2011

Holding the Cup, Part 2: The Cup of Sorrow

by Jadell Forman

(This is part of a series posted each Monday at The Neighborhood Café.)

Sometimes when I look into the cup in my hands, as I reflect upon the life I hold, I see sorrow.  Sorrow within my own heart and throughout the entire world.  It’s too much.  If I look too long, it’s overwhelming.

All around my neighborhood and our world I see political corruption, social oppression, environmental destruction working its evil in political captives, impoverished children, and littered streets.  In addition to those distant sorrows, people close to me experience sickness, loneliness, hopelessness, anguish.

When Jesus looked into his cup, he saw an overwhelming amount of sorrow, his and ours:

Jesus‘ cup is the cup of sorrow, not just his own sorrow but the sorrow of the whole human race.  It is a cup full of physical, mental, and spiritual anguish.  It is the cup of starvation, torture, loneliness, rejection, abandonment, and immense anguish (Can You Drink the Cup? by Henri Nouwen, p. 35).

Often when I’m upset, all I really want is someone to look into my cup with me and say, “Yes, that is upsetting, isn’t it?”

Christians mourn with those who mourn.  Jesus mourns with those who mourn.  And in the midst of the sorrow, he brings blessing.  Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.  By whom?  By Christ, and by Christians who have themselves received Christ’s comfort.

For our sake, Christ held his cup (and our cup) of sorrow, saw the immense anguish, and said a loving yes to God’s call to drink the cup.

Jesus didn’t throw the cup away in despair.  No, he kept it in his hands, willing to drink it to the dregs.  This was not a show of willpower, staunch determination, or great heroism.  This was a deep yes to Abba, the lover of his wounded heart (p. 37).

Christians know that no amount of our willpower, determination, or heroism will eliminate the cup of sorrow.  We won’t eliminate sorrow when we can get the right people into government office, the latest education model into our schools, and a better flowchart into our businesses.  Governments, education, and organization are tools God gave us to solve some, even many, of our world’s problems but never empty the cup of sorrow.

No.  Christians share in Christ’s suffering, including sorrow.  Even so, sharing that cup with him and with other Christians is also, oddly, the cup of joy.

Next Monday: Holding the Cup, Part 3: The Cup of Joy

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The Second Deepest Truth About You, Me, and Joel Osteen

by Michael J Klassen

Two nights ago, mega-mega church pastor Joel Osteen, from Houston Texas was interviewed on Piers Morgan’s new television show on CNN.

I’ve been pretty open about my criticisms of Joel on this blog. Osteen preaches a gospel that is decidedly too American and simplistic, and he’s a lousy theologian, but I digress…nevertheless, I was proud of Joel for standing for something on the program.

Morgan commented to Osteen that he had offered different opinions about homosexuality in various interviews. Once and for all, Piers Morgan wanted the viewers to know if, in his view, homosexuality is a sin.

I’m amazed that neither Joel nor his wife Victoria show any sign of flinching as the question is asked. I’d bet the family farm that inside, both were thinking, Don’t cringe, don’t cringe, don’t cringe!

“I’ve always believed the Scriptures show that it’s a sin,” he answered.

Wow! Joel Osteen finally stood for something other than the prosperity gospel! As the discussion ensues, Osteen explains that his intent is not to judge homosexuals.

I applaud Osteen for finally taking a stand on something, but he failed to point out the second deepest truth about all followers of Christ.

“You don’t normally talk about sin,” Morgan replies. Then, referring to Elton John (an avowed gay), he asks, “Why are they sinners?”

This is where Joel misses the mark. If I had been sitting next to Joel during Piers Morgan’s interview, I would have whispered, “Hey Joel—remember? We’re all sinners.”

In Jesus’ day, religious leaders tended to divide Jews into two camps—sinners and righteous people. I’m sure you can guess which camp the leaders placed themselves in.

So in Matthew 5, Jesus challenged the religious leaders.

“You have heard it said, ‘You shall not murder…But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister, will be subject to judgment” (5:21-22).

But he didn’t stop there. Jesus continued…

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. ” (5:27–28).

Wait a minute?!? Everybody gets angry and everyone has lusted more times than they can count (if they’re honest). That makes all of us are adulterers and murderers.


And with one comment, Jesus leveled the playing field for all of us. Theologians call this “total depravity.” It means given our choice, we’ll choose sin and hell every time without the Holy Spirit’s help. We’re unable to find Jesus on our own. I’ll give Joel a little credit here, too, because he defines sin literally as “missing the mark.” Sin means missing the mark–falling short–of God’s perfection and holiness (see Romans 3:23).

And really, total depravity isn’t that hard to prove. Just look around. The effects of sin surround us—not only on a national level but on a personal level. We live in a broken world full of broken people.

Like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, for years I convinced myself that I was a pretty good person. When faced with my shortcomings, I would get defensive or point my finger at people with greater sins than me. But after messing things up pretty badly in a church I pastored, I couldn’t talk myself out of the “I’m a pretty good person” argument. I was finally forced to face the facts: I’m a sinner.

Now, you’d think it would make me feel worse, but in reality, I was suddenly overwhelmed with a tremendous sense of relief. Here were the immediate benefits of acknowledging my total depravity:

  • I no longer felt the pressure to be perfect. Perfection is a physical and spiritual impossibility.
  • With this in mind, I no longer felt the pressure to fool people into thinking I had it all together.
  • Forgiveness came much easier because I suddenly realized that I need forgiveness, too. How can I withhold from others what I need for myself?
  • Most importantly, by acknowledging that I’m a sinner, I saw my deep need for Jesus. I cannot save myself.

The apostle Paul understood this. He wrote:

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1:15).

Think about it: Paul was second only to Jesus in importance to the New Testament church (if we’re just talking about humans, of course). He was an amazing leader, apostle, and theologian who has left an indelible imprint on every church over the last 2,000 years.

Yet he said he was the worst of all sinners.

Yeah right, you might be thinking to yourself. You’re just saying that. You don’t really mean it… But I‘d be willing to bet my firstborn son that he would interrupt you.

And if Paul was the worst of all sinners, what does that make you? What does that make me?

And with that, I want to open up the conversation to all of you. How does knowing that you’re a sinner positively affect the way you look at yourself and your life?

If you’ve given your life to Jesus, this is the second deepest truth about you and me. Next Friday, we’ll look at the deepest truth about you.


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Can God Heal our Deepest Wounds?

By Eugene C. Scott

In the summer of 1998 we drove home to Tulsa from a bittersweet family vacation in Colorado: Sweet because Dee Dee and I had celebrated our twentieth wedding anniversary with a trip to Vancouver, BC. Bitter because our oldest daughter had recently been diagnosed with an eating disorder, a cancer of the soul, and she was getting worse. My white knuckled grip on the steering wheel exposed the ghostly condition of my soul. I was lost. For the first time as a father I had no answer. The fatherly band-aids–wise words and solutions–I had utilized to fend off so many past crises proved futile against this devastating disease. We had gone to doctors, counselors, friends, and support groups; we had prayed, memorized Scripture, and read books; we had talked, cried, pleaded, and argued; we had blamed ourselves, our culture, gymnastics, and God; we had loved, hugged, and gotten angry. Still her cancer of the soul thrived.

So, we drove east on Interstate 70, in a minivan filled with fear and heartbreak. My every breath became a prayer.

God, heal her. Please don’t let this cancer steal anymore of her. Don’t let it take her life! Tell me what to say; show me what to do.

Miles of empty eastern Colorado rolled by as we played license plate games to kill time and the dread that rode with us.

Why was God so silent?

A couple of hours east of Denver I said, “Look, kids,” and pointed to the words “Trust Jesus” spray-painted on the cement pillar of a highway overpass.

“Do you think anyone is actually convinced of God’s love by that?” I asked sarcastically. “That’s not evangelism; that’s evandalism.”

At each overpass for the next several miles the same lime-green words “Trust Jesus” appeared. What a diversion. Instead of focusing on our pain and worries, we mocked silly Christians.

As we limped into Kansas, my daughter with the wounded soul moved to the shotgun seat. Everyone else was sleeping.

“What can I do, Dad?” she asked.

I shrugged my shoulders. I had no more answers and had to admit that to her. Her eyes teared up with disappointment.

Shortly after that trip, we hit what we thought was bottom: we placed her at Remuda Ranch, a long-term treatment center for eating disorders. In the midst of that dark time, a good friend invited me to a local Promise Keepers meeting. Before Bill McCartney spoke, a local man, one of the organizers of the meeting, was asked to share his testimony. He told a heart-wrenching story about his daughter, who was addicted to drugs, and how everything he did to help her didn’t.

I shuddered. This hit too close to home. Tears pressed, unwanted, from my eyes.

He went on saying he had been at a Promise Keepers planning meeting in Denver just weeks before. During that meeting, his wife called with news his daughter was in serious trouble. He left for Tulsa immediately, east on I70. As he drove, he brainstormed, outlining every solution a father could. His every breath a prayer.

I listened trying to hide my trembling and tears.

Then in the wastes of eastern Colorado, he related, he saw, spray-painted on a concrete pillar, the lime-green words “Trust Jesus.” In a heartbeat he knew God had spoken and instantly he rolled down the window of his van and figuratively threw out all his human plans.

“Jesus, not my plans but yours,” he prayed. “Only you can heal her.”

But in a few miles, he was back planning and problem solving. Then came another pillar. “Trust Jesus,” it shouted. Again he rolled down his window and threw out his human plans. Again he prayed.

I don’t know how long he bounced on this bungee cord of faith. I only know I was broken. I was a puddle. I was unmade.

“Jesus,” I choked, “not only have I not trusted you with my daughter, I ridiculed your attempt to coax me to faith.” I was the fool, not the person evandalizing I70, to believe I was a better father than You, my heavenly Father. I was a fool to think my puny solutions could accomplish anything without Your extravagant love.”

Imagine! To prove nothing is impossible to God, He connected the dots between two hopeless fathers, two broken daughters, two Colorado trips and a crazy person with a spray can.  Right then God poured fresh love into my empty soul and showed me He loved my daughter more that I ever could. In a gentle, firm voice Jesus spoke to my heart, “If I have the power to heal your daughter, and I do, I also have the love and power to carry all of you through this until I do. Trust Me!”

In his potent prayer in Ephesians 3:14-21, Paul reminds us that the best response to those relentless, hopeless situations is to “kneel before the Father . . . to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses all knowledge.”

Only when I recognized the paucity of my problem solving, and let my aching heart drive me to Christ, did I begin to learn that the love of Christ could carry me through anything. In this case there was no instant healing, no five keys to happiness, no easy answer. But there was a deeper knowledge of naked, unadulterated Love. That Love has sustained us on a road longer than a thousand lengths of I70. While we travel, healing, in more things than eating disorders, is coming. And our knowledge of the width, length, height, and depth of Christ’s love grows.

P.S. Our daughter is now 29, happy, healthy, trusting Jesus, married, a mother of a two year-old, with a baby boy on the way. God did exactly as He promised. He did not snap magical fingers and heal her. Instead He walked this long road with us, showing His love is the deepest, widest, most powerful force in existence.

Eugene C. Scott writes the Wednesday Neighborhood Cafe blog.  If you’re reading this on Facebook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here. Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO.


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Holding the Cup

Years ago, my friend Cristi and I were in Dallas, outlet shopping.  She wanted to go to Mikasa for “stemware.”  I didn’t really know what stemware was, but obliged her so that I wouldn’t feel bad when she obliged me by going to a store that didn’t interest her.

As we strolled down the aisle, she was on a mission.  I was on a ferry, merely moving along as an obligatory part of the trip.  Suddenly, I stopped mid-stream and gasped.  She looked at me as I looked at a display of stemware.  I reached for and held the coolest wine glass I’ve ever seen.  I had no idea so much creativity could go into a wine glass.  I turned it and admired it–the square lip and curved sides, the simple elegance and understated uniqueness…all the while, being utterly surprised by my interest in “stemware.”

Cristi drifted away at some point of my love-at-first-sight moment.  The store noises and movements bobbed on the far shores of my awareness…until the sound of an approaching shopping cart grew increasingly loud and stopped right behind me.  I turned abruptly.  It was Cristi…with a cart.

“What’s that for?” I asked.

“Your stemware,” she said.  I smiled gratefully, she enthusiastically.  And I bought stemware–something I had no prior intention of doing, and would not have done had Cristi not recognized and embraced what was going on within me.

What was going on within me?  I was delighted with a new discovery.  Upon entering that store, I had no interest in stemware.  In reality, I didn’t know how to appreciate stemware.  And I still really don’t care to know the intricacies of wine glasses and iced beverage glasses, or whatever they’re called.  I just know that I will never, ever see stemware that I prefer over what I now have.

What if in the same way I appreciate my stemware, I knew how to appreciate my life?  What if I held my cup and at some point gasped at the surprising simple elegance and uniqueness of this life within my hands, even if I don’t understand much of what’s going on?

Some of us know how to appreciate wine or coffee.  How would we live if we knew to do the same with life?  Holding, noticing, questioning the angles, curves, simplicity, elegance, uniqueness?

Holding the cup is a hard discipline.  We are thirsty people who like to start drinking at once.  But we need to restrain our impulse to drink, put both hands around the cup, and ask ourselves, “What am I given to drink?  What is in my cup?  Is it safe to drink?  Is it good for me?  Will it bring me health?…[J]ust living life is not enough.  We must know what we are living.  A life that is not reflected upon isn’t worth living.” – Henri Nowen, Can You Drink the Cup?, pp 27-28, 26.

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Forgive and Forget Me Not

by Michael J Klassen

“Bruce, if I’ve done something to offend you, please let me know. If I’m doing something wrong, I want to correct it,” I pleaded to my supervisor (not his real name). “No, everything’s fine,” he replied nonchalantly.

After working with the man for six months, I began to feel like he was slowly trying to force me to resign. My responsibilities were being taken away without being replaced, which drove me into a deep depression, yet every time I asked my supervisor for some clarity on what I was doing wrong, he denied everything.

For a “man of the cloth,” he didn’t display a great deal of integrity. In fact, he used the same approach with a number of other people whom he forced to resign from the team. And, six months later, our church leadership team gave me no choice but to resign from my church–upon the recommendation of Bruce who conveniently was unable to attend the meeting.

After resigning, I met with him one more time in the sincere attempt to reconcile our relationship. Let’s get everything out in the open, I told myself. Even though our conversation was devoid of emotion or accusation, he still refused to own up to his actions or even apologize for the way he had treated me.

Disappointed, I decided my journey to forgiveness would need to take place without his participation.

Society tells us that the goal of forgiveness is to “forgive and forget.” Let bygones be bygones and act as if the offense never happened. Preachers challenge us with this adage. If I were a good Christian, I would just forgive Bruce and act as if he never hurt me.

But I’m not so sure.

Should we forgive and forget? Is forgiveness defined by our best efforts at pretending the offense never happened?

“You’ll have to bear with me. Please forgive and forget. I’m old and foolish,” King Lear remarked to Cordelia in Shakespeare’s play King Lear.

The maxim we banter around in Christian circles didn’t begin with Scripture, it began with Shakespeare.

Here’s why I believe we need to remember our offenses (committed upon us or by us).

So we can grow. We need to learn from our mistakes and the mistakes of others. Without the memory of our past, we’re destined to repeat it.

So we can be healed. Forgetting the offenses committed against us stops the healing process because all we’re doing is suppressing it. Denial actually halts what we need most.

Forgiveness is a strange animal. I can experience a cathartic cleansing that releases me from the pain of the offense one day—only to find the pain of the offense reawakened the next. Only by acknowledging the offense will I be able to move forward.

“Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed,” James 5:16 tells us. I’ve always understood that verse in the context of the sins I’ve committed. But confessing the sins that have been committed against me also helps me heal. Obviously, that doesn’t mean broadcasting the offense to everyone I know. We should talk about the offense with one or two trusted people in private so we avoid gossiping.

So we can understand God’s grace. The offenses people have committed against me remind me of what people can do. Of what I can do. Like Bruce, I’m capable of doing some pretty mean things. Bruce needs the grace of forgiveness…just like me.

I’m still working through my forgiveness issues with Bruce, but even working on this post helps me move forward in releasing him from the offense. And it reminds me that someone out there is probably working through forgiveness issues toward me.

Fortunately, when we confess our sins to God, he forgives us completely and removes from us the stain of sin. But he doesn’t live in a constant state of amnesia. If he did, it would devalue the power of the cross because the cross can only be appreciated by remembering the depth of our offense.

So the next time you’re tempted to forgive and forget, remember that it’s Shakespeare…not Scripture.


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Is Prayer a Waste of Time?

By Eugene C. Scott

Late one night after supper Jesus and his friends stole through the dark, dangerous streets of Jerusalem, talking quietly among themselves. Once out of town, Jesus led them to a safe and silent place to pray. Something wicked loomed on the horizon. And Jesus knew he needed a miracle to face it. They climbed a hill to an ancient olive garden. The gnarled tree trunks, as big around as the massive mill stones which pressed their olives into oil, stood supporting the speckled sky. Their maudlin shadows crisscrossed on the ground and Jesus’ somber mood transformed Gethsemane into a many-pillared temple.

In this shadowy sanctuary Jesus stopped the procession saying, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

Peter, James, and John touched their Lord tenderly and nodded their willingness to do anything. But the long day of travel, and the heavy Passover meal, the wine, and the quiet, dark night overwhelmed them and, though Jesus prayed so passionately he sweat blood, they dropped off to sleep. Twice Jesus interrupted his prayers to wake them, but each time they lolled off again.

How could they sleep? Didn’t they suspect what was coming? Couldn’t they stay awake and pray? Those are the questions we ask of this story in Matthew chapter 26. Jesus too asks these questions. He also answers them.

“The spirit is willing, but the body is weak,” he asserts.

So why do we spend so much time chastising the sleepy disciples? They were tired! They were human! They were self-centered! These are not profound observations. Sinful, weak human beings tend to fall asleep–no matter what (just ask any long-winded pastor). We also make promises we can’t keep. Moreover, we lie; we gossip; we kill! This is not new information. These are just a few of the sins Jesus bore on the cross for us. They are why he had to face that torture.

The real question this account stirs up is not why the disciples can’t pray but why Jesus does? Wasn’t he already in tune with the Father?

Not without prayer.

Jesus prayed because he knew facing life alone, in this case death, equals the height of folly. Clement of Alexandria called prayer keeping company with God. Today we would call it “hanging out.” Jesus constantly sought the company and wisdom of his Father. Prayer simply helped Them hang out. Why hang out with God?

Jesus said it this way, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” The Gethsemane story exists not to portray slothful disciples, but to teach us the first function of prayer–keeping company with God. Notice that Jesus’ garden prayer produces no spectacular miracle. No angels rip open the heavens and rescue him. He simply rises from his knees with new strength–strength derived from keeping company with the Father.

“Rise, let us go,” he says calmly. “Here comes my betrayer.”

Is prayer time for you to “hang out” with God? Or is it a tool to manipulate miraculous escapes? Yes, Jesus asked for an escape: “may this cup be taken from me.” But in the end Jesus knows the deepest miracle is the change inside him not a change in his destiny. “Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

In the end, peace comes not from burning bushes, miraculous escapes, or bolts of lightning, but from time spent talking, listening, arguing, sitting in awkward silence, hanging out with God. Prayer activates osmosis, unclogging our poluted hearts and allowing peace to permeate our lives. Are you in need of a miracle? Try what Jesus did. Pray. Keep company with God.


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The Question, Part 2

Okay, so…as you read last week, these four people are sitting at my table, expecting ten more people in their group.  That’s where the story begins today…

Ten guys, jovial and talkative, stroll through the restaurant toward their table in my waitressing section.  I move out of the way so they can choose seats and open menus the hostess had earlier set at each place.  After a moment, I walk to their end of the table, the opposite end of the first group of four who came in earlier.

“Hi, guys.  My name’s Jadell.  I’ll be your waitress.  What can I get you to drink?”

“I’ll take a Miller Lite,” says a gregarious guy with a beaming smirk.  Like other “clever” customers, he knows we don’t serve alcohol but wants to hear me say it.

So, with a fun dose of professionalism, I tell Homecoming King, “We don’t serve alcohol.”

“Come on!  Isn’t this The Happy Chef?!”

“If you’d like, I can put a plastic monkey on your glass.”

“That’ll work–7-up and a monkey for me.”

Everyone else seems to be enjoying this banter, except for one guy, Mr. Constipated.  He scowls as if life, including his group, is a pain in the butt.

Knowing they’re from out of town, I ask, “Where’d you guys come from?”

A guy at the end of the table, right next to me, says in a quieter voice, “From the baseball field.”

Homecoming King pipes up, “That’s quite a team you’ve got there!”

“Yeah, I guess so.”  (My friends on the team might appreciate a mention, for the record, that they went on to win the state championship two years in a row, once with a perfect game.)


Quiet guy leans in and asks, with a head-tilt to the other end of the table, “Hey, what have those four been talking about?”   At this point, all of the late-comers zero in for my response.

I shrug, as if I hadn’t been that interested, and say, “Uh, something about right- and left-hand positions after the takeover.”

And all heck breaks loose.  A chorus of moans.  A ruckus of testosterone.  Guys smack menus onto the table, push back from their place, or bolt to their feet, flipping over their chair.

“Oh, geez!” “That’s disgusting!”  “Can you believe it?”  “I knew it!”  “Nice team play!”

The first four come out of their huddle and look over in surprise.  Take-over guy and I connect eyes, mine being Omigosh-huge.  He gives me an It’s-okay smile, stands up, and walks toward my end of the table, saying, “Guys.  Guys,” squeezing their shoulders or putting a hand gently on their back.

Continuing in that way, he quiets them down and starts a little speech: “You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around, how quickly a little power goes to their heads.”

I roll my eyes.  Geez.  Did the umps and coaches go at it again? In my mind, I see these men shouting in each other’s face, with their noses a fist-length apart.

Take-over guy continues around me and stops.

“It’s not going to be that way with you.  Whoever wants to be great must become a servant.”  And smiles at me.

Cool. This is like in school when the teacher holds up my artwork and says, “Class, see how Jadell blends her hues.”  I think he just gave me an A.

He continues along the other side of the table, squeezing each guys’ shoulder, ushering Homecoming King and Mr. Constipated back onto their respective thrones.

“Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave.”


He’s back at the head of the table, opposite me, as if he has drawn a circle around two-previously split groups.

“That is what the Son of Man has done.”


He enters my waitress station, emerges with the pitcher of water, and refills someone’s water glass.  “He came to serve, not be served…”

Moving on and stopping beside me: “—and then to give away his life (putting his free hand on my shoulder) in exchange for the many who are held hostage.”

I knew it!  I knew there were hostages involved in this!

All eyes shift toward me, and then down, as if they were kids reminded to share with others.

Others.  Wait.  Is he saying I’m somebody’s hostage?  Time out, sports fans!  Servant?  Fine.  Slave and hostage?  No way.

That’s pretty much it.  Takeover guy returned to his seat.  The group remained calmed, ordered their food, and ate meals like normal people.  But it was such a memorable group, with such unusual words, that I never forgot, but kept asking myself the same questions: Can you drink the cup?  Am I somebody’s hostage?  Slave?  Is being a waitress really like being the top of the class?

I don’t know.  But I do know that takeover guy’s words remain perched in my memory…like a plastic monkey on my beverage glass.

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Why God Doesn’t Always Rescue Us

“We’re working harder to help her than she is,” my wife commented to me last Tuesday. After nearly pulling out what little hair I have left on my head, I was about ready to scream. The push and pull of raising teenage daughters could drive anybody nuts.

Sometimes I wish I could crawl inside my daughter’s head to convince her that I’m trying to help when I push her to turn in her homework on time. Or tell the truth. Or practice her cello. But this week I reached the end of my rope. I couldn’t “make” her do any of the above.

Later that night, I experienced one of those “aha” moments that occur only a handful of times in a person’s lifetime. Quite honestly, it was a spiritual experience.

Rather than bail out my daughter from her self-inflicted problems, I realized that I need to let her experience the consequences of her choices. If she chooses to flunk out of the 8th grade, she can go to summer school—but she’ll have to work for me to pay off the additional fee for summer classes. If she chooses not to practice her cello—when I pay $50 per lesson—then she’s choosing not to play the cello. Canceling her lessons was is easy as a phone call. Suddenly, I recognized that I was part of the problem. I was becoming the co-dependent parent. By rescuing her, I was preventing her from growing up and becoming a healthy, functioning adult.

Then the thought hit me like a ton of bricks. God isn’t co-dependent. That’s why he lets us fall. That’s why he so often doesn’t rescue us. If he did, he would be reinforcing co-dependent behavior. We’d expect him to bail us out and we wouldn’t grow.

How often do we mess up our lives and then blame God when he doesn’t rescue us? After a neighbor died of a drug overdose, the deceased’s grief-stricken step-father asked me, “Why did God let this happen?” He didn’t; his son made a fatal choice.

This brings to mind the fact that God’s perspective on pain is different than ours. Pain is a great motivator. C.S. Lewis once wrote, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Sometimes pain is the better option than our deliverance from it, and rescuing us may at times be the worst thing for us.

So last Tuesday evening, after trying everything within my power to “make” my daughter practice her cello, I calmly walked into her room and told her, “Tonight I’m going to give you a choice. If you choose not to practice for your lesson tomorrow, I’m going to take that as your decision to quit the cello. I want you to play. You have the musical ability. But that’s your choice. I’m happy to call your teacher and cancel your lessons. But you’ll have to reimburse me for the $100 for the last two lessons of the month.”

I turned around and walked downstairs to my office. Within 5 minutes, the most beautiful cello music I had ever heard began emanating from her bedroom.

God isn’t co-dependent, I told myself as I soaked in the music.

But lest we assume God lacks any compassion, the fact is, he has rescued us. He threw us a lifeline when he sent Jesus to earth. He’s given us the Holy Spirit to comfort us in our pain. We aren’t alone.

God loves us and he wants us to be healthy–in our relationship with him and with others.


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Still Haven’t Found What You’re Looking For?

by Eugene C. Scott

Have you ever found something you weren’t looking for? It happened to me a few years ago when I accompanied a nine year-old boy on a search for his lost glasses, despite that he couldn’t remember exactly where he lost them. I went only to quell my guilt for not searching when we would inevitably go purchase another pair. On the upside, this particular nine year-old was a delight to be with even when searching for a needle in a haystack.

We parked my truck near the last place he remembered having his glasses—a long, winding walking path decorated with large river rocks and landscaping bark. The boy had lost his glasses on the way to–or at–or in the universe near–the new skateboard park that was about a mile from our house. I knew the path well and was naively picturing the most likely places to search. But the path had only served the boy as a touch stone, a tether to which he loosely tied himself while looping, wending, and winding to the park. But I didn’t know that at the time so I clung to the path searching every inch of its pavement.

“I didn’t walk that way,” the boy told me shaking his head.

“Where then?” I shrugged.

He pointed off the path to the rocks he had climbed and vaulted from. I searched the bushes around those rocks. Next we left the path entirely and hunted around a statue of a flying horse he had investigated. Then cut diagonally through a parking lot. But even that was not direct. He showed me how he had climbed over the sidewalk railing and dipped behind the dumpster and sauntered through a restaurant (I asked them if they had seen his glasses) and out the back door that let us out on the path again.

I shook my head. His route was truly random!

Back on the path, we peered under every weed in the spot he claimed he had stopped to chase a garter snake.

“I bent over to look at it and I bet my glasses slid off without me knowing,” he said.

I agreed and engaged in the search earnestly. But we came up empty and continued by scouring every dink and dodge he took off the path until we finally reached the skate park.

All the while, we had a fun conversation about snakes and any other nine year-old stuff that came up. He had definitely not taken a mathematically precise power walk and our search therefore, was not systematic. I observed even now, trying to be serious, the boy didn’t so much walk as bounce, light and airy with his feet only touching the ground for the fun of it. He taught me the names of various skateboard moves and I saw the familiar walking path as if for the first time. We spooked another garter snake and marveled at how fast they are. We talked about likely fishing holes in the river. We wondered what fun things we could do with the $70 to $100 his new glasses would cost to replace, if we found his old ones.

Reversing the Apostle Paul’s meaning “I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child” and I enjoyed every moment of it. Being a nine year-old ain’t so bad.

Maybe that’s what Jesus tried to get us to see when he called the children onto his lap and told his adult followers to have a child-like faith. Maybe the “kingdom of heaven,” as Jesus talked about it and lived it, is more than a “straight and narrow path” defined by rules and systematic searches and time lines and well-defined adult perceptions and ideas. What if the freedom Jesus promised his followers is better illustrated (and lived!) by a young boy turning his search for his glasses into another adventure? What if our pursuit of meaning and Jesus himself became a fun and loopy path? What if we never find what we are looking for because we are looking in the wrong ways?

On the way back from the skate park, empty-handed, I had pretty much given up the search. I was not surprised. I had begun the search thinking I would not find what I was looking for (to paraphrase Bono) anyway. So, as I walked, I looked down at the ground only occasionally, just because I should.

Then, nearing the point our search had begun, I glanced down and spied my nine year-old companion’s glasses sitting in the landscaping bark folded neatly as if someone had purposefully placed them there.

The boy saw them too.

He squealed; his face beamed; we high-fived. We danced around as if we had found Jesus’ “pearl of great price.”

“I was just praying we’d find ‘em,” he said. “Jesus dropped ‘em right where you were lookin’.”

Immediately my adult mind found a more plausible explanation for how the glasses ended up neatly folded where we had already searched. I wish it hadn’t.

Eugene C. Scott writes the Wednesday Neighborhood Cafe blog.  If you’re reading this on Facebook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here. Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO.


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The Question

by Jadell Forman

So, one day, many years ago, I’m waitressing at The Happy Chef…

I have the section by the bathrooms.  I don’t like this section.  My friend/coworker once complained about that section, listed all her reasons, and started me thinking the same.

It’s the place where big parties usually sit (and big parties usually make a big mess but rarely leave a big tip); and if there are kids in high chairs and booster seats, they eat crackers and leave an explosion of crumbs.

At least it’s mid-afternoon, when business is slow.  The hostess, after moving together several tables, passes by and tells me to expect a party of fourteen.

Oh, yippee.

As I’m preparing water glasses, four of the party enter my section.  Three thirty-something men and an older woman, all with jet black, wavy hair, and not from my small town.  Two of the men are clearly brothers, almost identical in appearance, pretty darn cute, and the spitting image of the woman I assume to be their mom.  The other guy is normal height and not cute at all, yet…interesting, in an attractive way.

The other three defer to him, choosing their seat after he chooses his.  He sits at the end closest to my waitress station, with his back toward me, facing the plate glass windows.  The mother sits across from him, facing but not noticing me.  One son sits next to her; the other, next to odd-ball guy.

Immediately after everyone is seated, the woman catches the odd guy’s attention and does sort of an Eastern bow.  She joins her hands in a prayer position, closes her eyes, and bows her head.

And I’m thinking, Now that’s weird.

The odd guy says, “What do you want?”

With her hands still joined, she raises her head, meets his eyes, and says, “Give me your word that my sons will be your right- and left-hand men when you take over.”

Take over!  Take over what? Images of President Carter and foreigners holding hostages come to mind. 

The brothers look at the woman, with huge eyes, dropped jaws, and amused grins, as if to say, Dang, Mom!  That’s ballsy of you! Then they look at take-over guy, eager for his response.

The guy says to the woman, “You have no idea what you’re asking.”  Then he looks at the brothers.  I’m not sure if he’s mad, or considering if these guys can handle the job, or what.  But I expect him to say something.  Something like, Can you handle the job?  Or, Did you put your mother up to this?  He’s looking at them intently. I can tell, because when he and the brother next to him look at each other, I see their profiles.  Then he speaks to the brothers: “Can you drink the cup I’m about to drink?”

Omigosh!  The water. I’d forgotten all about it, fourteen filled glasses, setting on my tray, which I promptly pick up, with a turn toward the table.

“Sure, why not?” the brothers say with a shrug and glance at each other.

As I step out of my waitressing station, I step into their drama, but act like I haven’t.  “Hi, my name’s Jadell…” I glance at the brothers, now in non-silhouette light—and, holy moly, they are cute!  Blushing like all of us waitresses do when Mike the new cop comes in, I set down their water glasses, and their mom’s, while finishing my schpiel.  “…I’ll be your waitress today.  Would anyone like coffee?”  I set down take-over guy’s water, and look him in the eye.

He’s smiling at me, glances at my name tag, and smiles again, as if he knows me.  Everything inside—bones, blood, organs—turns to warm wax, and I want to be his friend, and sit down at his table and talk.  Now that I’m looking at him straight on, he doesn’t look like a take-over guy.

“Maybe later,” he says.

I return his smile, sure I’m his favorite person or something.  And I wonder if he’s heard good things about me from the hostess.  I continue setting down glasses at the other ten place settings.

What a great day.  What a great section.

Pretending to focus on my job, I watch him out of the corner of my eye.  He’s leaning back, with one arm draped over the back of his chair, using his other hand to twist his glass of water in quarter turns while it sets on the table.  Looking, turning, as if looking at different angles of a thought.

“Come to think of it, you are going to drink my cup.  But as to awarding places of honor, that’s not my business.  My Father is taking care of that.”

Okay, so, it’s a family business.  That’s safe.  That’s cool.  Nothing earth-shaking.

At this point, I thought I could relax.  But that wasn’t true, because the earth sure shook when the rest of the group showed up.

I’ll tell you about that next week.

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