Monthly Archives: March 2011

The God of Mistaken Identities: Or Is There Only One God?

By Eugene C. Scott

I’m a man of mistaken identity. I can’t count the times people have said, “I have a friend who looks just like you.” Sometimes I get mistaken for a celebrity. I know, I know. What can I say? When my hair turned gray, some said I looked like Richard Gere. I made them take it back.

The worst is when people say, “You’re not the Dr. Gene Scott are you?” They always have wry smiles on their faces. (He was a brilliant, crazy, heretical TV preacher) But the joke gets old. Even though it is an honor to be mistaken for famous people or even an infamous preacher (who many would describe as brilliant but crazy–and possibly a heretic), I want to be known as me–not someone else. I am an individual. On the surface I may look, act, and sound like someone else. But if you get to know me, you’ll find out who I really am. Different. Unique.

It seems that God suffers from mistaken identity too.

It’s common today for people to assert that it doesn’t matter which god you believe in or which name you call God because they are all the same. After all, our many gods–at first–look so similar it’s easy to mistake them.

For example, the Hindu gods of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva each represent in turn a creator, sustainer, and ender of life. On the surface this sounds like Christianity’s trinity. Digging deeper, however, you discover the differences between the Hindu gods and the Christian God are as profound as the differences between me and Richard Gere. A simple case of mistaken identity. But a dangerous one.

The late Joseph Campbell–who studied what he called the god myths common in almost every culture on the planet–found so many similarities in the myths that he concluded that humans invented the concept of god and that we endowed these gods with many similar traits because it is human to do so. We invent them in our own image.

Other thinkers, including C.S. Lewis, look at the same facts and conclude that our god myth similarities come from God himself. We take the truths we see about God and attach them to lesser gods of our own invention because we twist and misunderstand the data about the God who does exist.

Still we want all gods to be the same. I understand this belief. Believing this feels better and it is a lot easier to say everyone is right. I once took this tack when people asked me if I preferred to be called Gene or Eugene.

“Whatever you want,” I’d say, not wanting to make them uncomfortable. This backfired and confused them because they would not know what to call me. Worse I was being dishonest. I did care. If I have to go by such an odd–almost goofy–name, I prefer the full version: Eugene. The full version means “well born, noble.” “Gene” just means “origin.” Also Gene could be confused as a girl’s name. Plus I’m a Eugene not a Gene. Eugene describes me better. It fits. And that’s what my mom named me.

Yes, I’ll answer to Gene–or even Tom, Dick, and Harry–for a time. But once you really know me, you will call me by my real name. Otherwise, I will realize you don’t really know me and probably don’t want to.

The same is true for knowing God. Of course we are not talking only about arbitrary naming. Of course a mere meaningless name makes no difference. Names in older times, however, were chosen not by popularity but as a descriptor. They let others know more about you. The core you.

Moses asked the Burning Bush, after God commanded him to confront Egypt about keeping Israel captive, “Who should I say is sending me?”

“I Am,” God named himself. The One who Is, always has Been, always will Be. The One source of all life.

This is important because most other gods only claim to be a part of the source of life such as a river or fertility or the sun or–as in Hinduism–the beginning (Brahma), the middle (Vishnu), or the end (Shiva) of life.

Does it matter what we call God? Yes, just as it is crucial that I call you by your correct name and follow that naming with a knowing, so it is with God. Someone once said, tell me about the god you don’t believe in. I probably don’t believe in that god either. This can only make sense if there are things that are true about God and things that are not true. I cannot be Eugene and Jack, tall and short, vengeful and full of grace all at the same time. It is not possible for me to be the cigar smoking, ranting and raving, cussing, crazy theological wild man Dr. Gene Scott just because you call me by his name.

God is a Being of mistaken identity. This hurts us, the mistaken, more than it does God. Still, just as you and I correct those who call us wrong, God set the record straight.

More on how he did that next Wednesday.


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The Answer

by Jadell M. Forman

On Mondays, we’ve been considering Jesus’ question, “Can you drink the cup…?” using the cup as a metaphor for life.

An evangelist came to our county fair the summer I turned 11 years old.  At the crusade, I sat one row in front of my mom.  I was quiet but not paying attention when my mom tapped me on the shoulder and asked, “Do you want to go up there and give your life to Jesus?”

I awoke from my daydream, saw a few people standing and walking into the aisle, and nodded, thinking, Yeah, sure.  Who wouldn’t? So, I went forward and “gave my life to Jesus.”

A few days later school started, and we were all trying to fit in.  Meredith, a girl I knew only from a 2nd grade birthday party, didn’t fit in.  She had just returned to our town from living five years in England.  She had an accent.  My girlfriends were making fun of her–something I would have readily done a year before.  But this year, I paused, weighing my newly-acquired Christian teachings against my previous pattern of being cliquey in order to remain in the popular crowd.  I asked myself a question: Do I want to be popular, or do I want to follow Jesus?

The Yeah, sure, I said when devoting myself to Jesus was easier at the crusade.

That’s what it was like for James and John when Jesus asked them if they could drink the cup that he was about to drink.  After the initial, easy yes comes many harder yeses.  Sometimes it’s an excruciating, “Only if I have to.”  In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus struggled with saying yes right before dying on the cross.

I think what we’re really saying yes to is, “Can I trust God?”  Author Henri Nouwen says about this trusting:

  • “It breaks through all human calculations and expectations.  It defies all our wishes to be sure in advance.  It turns our hope for a predictable future upside down and pulls down our self-invented safety devices” ( Can You Drink the Cup? p 107).

In 6th grade, I said yes again to Jesus, declining risking the scorn of my friends, choosing to be kind not cliquey.  The Holy Spirit helped me then.  He has helped me many times since.  And he’s helping me today to hold, lift, and drink the cup.

This is Jadell Forman’s final blog post for The Neighborhood Café.  She has said yes to an opportunity to return to the acreage where she grew up raising sheep, and to write her book Good Shepherd, Guide Me: Field Notes from a Shepherdess.


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Where Is God In Our Pain?

By Michael J. Klassen

In October, 1995, 29 year old Göran Kropp embarked on a round-trip journey that would take him from sea level to the roof of the world. What made his journey significant was his determination to travel from his home in Stockholm, Sweden to the summit of Mt. Everest entirely under his own power—without the help of a car, train, or airplane. He would make the entire journey from Sweden to Nepal on bicycle. And once on the mountain, he would climb without the aid of a Sherpa team or supplemental oxygen.

During his 8,000 mile bike ride to Katmandu, he was robbed by Romanian schoolchildren and assaulted by a crowd in Pakistan. He was hit on the head with a baseball bat in Iran. Fortunately, he was wearing a helmet on at the time.

Finally, on May 1, 1996—7 months later—Göran left base camp to began his ascent up the world’s highest mountain, hovering at 29,035 feet above sea level. He wasn’t tethered to another climber who would secure him if he slipped and began falling off the mountain and he didn’t have a Sherpa team to haul his supplies like all the other climbing teams. In fact, he didn’t even have bottles of oxygen to help him think clearly when the air became dangerously thin above 20,000 feet.

By Thursday that week he was camping at 26,000 feet and the next morning, he began the final leg of his ascent. Unfortunately, Göran found himself fighting for every step through the thigh-deep snow which quickly drained what little reserves of strength he had left. At 28,700 feet, a mere 60 minutes from the summit, the snow he had been trudging through finally took its toll. Determined that he was too tired to make it safely to the top and down again, he turned his back to the summit and began his descent down the mountain.

But this story does have a positive ending: On his second try three weeks later, after the famous 1996 Mt. Everest tragedy, Göran Kropp conquered Mt. Everest.

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Mountains Represent Our Problems
Mt. Everest accentuated Göran Kropp’s weaknesses. Mountains tend to do that.

Throughout Scripture, mountains symbolize one of two things. First, they symbolize problems.

Jesus said in Mt 17:20, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Especially in the days before bulldozers and earthmovers, mountains symbolized the immovable. Mountains exemplified anything so ominous in a person’s life that it couldn’t be removed apart from the power of God.

It was on Mt. Moriah that God asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac (in Genesis 22).

When faced with an enormous task, God spoke to Zerubbabel, “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.” Then God spoke to Zerubbabel’s problem: “What are you, O mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground” (Zechariah 4:6-7).

Jesus was crucified on a mountain called Golgotha

Problems are part and parcel to our human existence. It doesn’t matter how talented or wealthy or even how spiritual you are; even if your name is Jesus Christ, problems are a fact of life.

And if it makes you feel any better, Jesus promised us problems. “In this world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33 italics added).

Mountains Represent The Presence Of God
Without problems we wouldn’t recognize our need for God—which brings us to the second thing mountains symbolize in Scripture: The presence of God

Moses was a lowly shepherd tending sheep one day in the wilderness.  The mountain Moses faced was his own self-doubt. Months before, he was a powerful ruler in Egypt, but due to some very poor judgment on his part, he fled his homeland because he murdered a fellow Egyptian.

While on the side of a mountain named Sinai, he encountered a burning bush. God spoke to Moses, “I want you to deliver the Israelites from the Egyptians.” But Moses interjected, “Why would you want to use a failure like me bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

God answered back, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain” (Ex. 3:11-12 italics added).

Repeatedly from then on, whenever Moses encountered a problem, he returned to the mountain. On one occasion, God hid Moses in the cleft of a rock, and then passed by him in all His glory (Exodus 33).

My tendency is to assume that my spiritual maturity will naturally grow over time. I’m 46, but when I’m 50 I’ll be a much stronger Christian. And think how strong I’ll be when I’m 60! But it doesn’t happen that way.

You know what helps me grow stronger? Mountains. Mountains help us on our journey to becoming more like Christ.

We’re no less in God’s presence when we’re facing our problems on the mountain than when we’re on the mountaintop. They’re both the same mountain!

Our perspective on problems is often wrong. We often see it as cause/effect for our sin—which it sometimes is—when we should see them as opportunities for burning bushes and the still small voice.

We may not always realize it, but that problem we are facing, that mountain we’re on, is holy ground. Dare I even say that the problem before us may even be a burning bush.

Problems reveal to us our shortcomings, our capabilities, our limits; they reveal to us and others the bankruptcy of our own efforts. Problems reveal to us what God already knows: that we are fraught with shortcomings. Problems reveal to us our need for Jesus. Our depravity. Our pride. But they also present us with opportunities to rely on God. Sometimes they even drive us to our knees.

Pain is the platform where we often encounter God.

Last Friday we discussed what it means to abide in Christ. While I can abide in Christ in the stillness of my quiet office when all is well in my world (at least temporarily!), I can also abide in Christ in the middle of my problem.

And you can, too.

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

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


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Why Technology and Science Can’t Save Us

By Eugene C. Scott

The only time I’ve ever given something (my computer) up for Lent, it wasn’t even Lent. And I didn’t choose–of my own free will–to give up my computer.

A few years ago, despite the fact that I own one of the best and most reliable computers going (yes, you poor PC plugs it is a world-famous Mac), my 256 megabyte hard drive crashed and burned. After trying several home remedies such as opening and closing the laptop lid, pushing various mysterious buttons (I wonder what the “F” stands for on those buttons), and muttering to myself, I finally scheduled an appointment with the “Mac Genius” in the closest Apple Store, which happened to be a mere 150 miles away. At the time I lived in the mountains near Vail, which was great except when . . . . Anyway the 2.5 hour drive to Boulder, CO did give me time to reflect—to take stock of my life as it relates to computers and electronic stuff.

The way I remember that fateful drive is like this:

That drive turned out to be a sobering and painful several hour odyssey, during which my hands trembled on the steering wheel and thoughts of living computerless distracted me. The usually spectacular Rocky Mountain scenery passed in a blur. My skin became clammy to the touch, as I fought back fear and worry each time I thought of how long it had already been since I had last checked my e-mail—ten hours and counting.

What if someone sends me an extremely important e-mail chain letter and I break the chain? I worried. I sobbed when I realized my communication ties to my world had been sadistically and heartlessly severed. I had unwillingly joined the ranks of the out-of-touch and uninformed. I feared I might become e-illiterate.

Less important but equally traumatic it dawned on me that I had lost parts of my seventy-five page (so far) doctoral dissertation, and my most recent sermon (I convulsed at the idea that I now faced researching sermons using books rather than the internet and writing them on those hideous yellow legal pads).

And how could I live in a world where my entire iTunes library had vanished?

Then panic hit! With my Treo palmOne phone calendar lost in cyberspace, how could I possibly know when to be where and with whom I was supposed to be? I nearly ran off the road. I saw my life pass before my eyes. To my horror my life was configured in indecipherable ones and zeros. Tears blurred my vision. I pulled over and turned on my emergency flashers.

I was a mess. Right then and there I knew what I must do. Admit my dependency.

So looking up to the blue sky through my pitted windshield I mumbled, “Hi, my name is Eugene.” I paused; I breathed; I listened. Then white-knuckling the steering wheel, I continued, “And I am addicted to my Mac! Computers, and other electronic devices rule my life.” I listened again. Sadly there was no encouraging “Hi, Eugene” response because there is no support group for this. I sighed. More tears flowed. At least I had said it. It was out.

On the drive back to Edwards, CO, determined but frightened, I swore I would use the three to ten days it would take to repair my PowerBook G4, to overcome my addiction and start a new life. I told myself I would read more books, talk to people face to face, and occasionally— shudder—use a pen or pencil to write. I even thought I would break out the old turntable and listen to a record or two. I pulled into our driveway ready for anything. I was fearful but resolute.

Fortunately my PowerBook was ready in three days and I never had to follow through on those rash resolutions. Though on day two of web-sobriety I did pick up my old, loose-leaf Bible. I stumbled on this passage, “You shall have no other gods before me.” Then I googled the passage to find out what it could mean.

Some wise saint (possibly John Calvin) once said, the human heart is an idol factory. The ancients carved wood and stone into what they hoped would be gods of their salvation. We fashion chips and technology into the same hope.

If you listen to the chatter of our world, how many times a day will you hear that a certain scientific discovery, or hypothesis, or technical advancement will bring us the healing or answers we are looking for? Hundreds? All the while God stands at the side of the internet-super highway with his thumb out, hitching a ride. As wonderful as science and technology are, they are finite–limited–and can’t save us.

This is because they are creations of our own limited minds. Technology is created not in God’s image but ours. We are broken beings capable of taking anything good and using it for evil. And we do. Also, if our struggles were material/physical only, maybe physical/material solutions could help. But our problems run deep into our souls. And not even a super computer can go there. Only God can.

I may have exaggerated my struggle with my forced fasting from electronics of several years ago. But I did recognize then, and still do now, how easy it is for me to try to slip something else into that God shaped void in my life.

Maybe that’s what seasons like Lent are really about. Not just giving stuff up. But taking stock of where in our life God stands or who/what we have standing in God’s place.

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

Beginning on March 13–the Sunday following Ash Wednesday–we will begin a Lenten series titled “Embrace: Discover, Desire . . . Jesus” at The Neighborhood Church.  During worship we will explore those things of God we can embrace and add to our lives as a response of love to Jesus.  These worship gatherings will also include hands-on opportunities to practice these things God asks us to add to our lives.  Join us.  See for worship times.


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Drinking: To the Bottom

by Jadell M. Forman

On Mondays, we’ve been looking at the Eucharist cup as a metaphor for life, following priest and author Henri Nouwen’s book, Can You Drink the Cup?

Growing up, when I used to waitress at The Happy Chef, the wait staff also cleared the tables.  Often, the coffee cups on a vacated table had a bit of coffee left in the bottom.  I didn’t understand why until recently.

As a latecomer to the coffee crowd (I began drinking coffee this past December), it’s been just within the past few months that I’ve been doing what all those coffee-drinking customers had been doing: leaving the final swallow of coffee in the bottom of the cup.

On Mondays at The Neighborhood Café, the foundational question we’re considering is Jesus’ question, “Can you drink the cup I am about to drink?”  If we answer yes, a question that naturally follows is, “How?”

“To the bottom,” answers Nouwen.

But, as I’ve recently realized, the stuff on the bottom–whether in a glass of wine or grape juice, or a cup of coffee or tea–doesn’t taste good.  Who’s ever going to drink it?


He asked his Heavenly Father for another option, but there wasn’t one.  Jesus eventually accepted that he was born to drink to the bottom humanity’s bitter cup.  In fulfilling his call, he absorbed the curse of death and instead offers us the cup of everlasting life.

These days, whenever I see that stuff at the bottom of my cup, it reminds me that Jesus drank his cup to the bitter bottom.  Graciously, I don’t have to experience spiritual death, and I always have a place at the Father’s table, and I always hold a cup of everlasting life.

Still, the cup I hold, lift, and drink has bitter stuff at the bottom.

“Can you drink the cup I am about to drink?” Jesus asked two of his disciples.  Maybe he was asking, Can you drink the cup of life that contains both sweet and bitter?

“Yeah, sure,” they responded.  The answer came when their mother set out to secure, from Jesus, the best of life for her sons.  Maybe we need to bitter stuff in order to recognize the sweet stuff.  And maybe the best of life includes the wisdom to appreciate both positive and negative experiences.

During those waitressing years of high school, I was on our town’s gymnastic team.  During one practice, I had a heckuva time doing whatever I tried to do.  Despondent, I went to the locker room.  My teammate, Susie, followed me.  She listened to me voice my frustrations through tears, and consoled me, saying, “If we didn’t have bad days, we wouldn’t know what a good day is.”

Susie was right.  The frustrating day was rare, a small portion of a largely satisfying sports year and career, just as the stuff at the bottom of the cup is a small portion of the cup.  Likewise, the day I swallowed the bitterness of disappointment, I also swallowed a dose of wisdom: there’s more good than bad, and the bad comes with the good.  God redeemed my frustration by teaching me a lesson I remember all these years later.

Because Christ swallowed my ultimate bitterness–and your ultimate bitterness–those bitter bits in our cup of life don’t leave us with just a bad taste in our mouth, but a taste of redemption.

Jadell M. Forman writes for The Neighborhood Café on Mondays, looking for redemption at the bottom of the cup.

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The Secret To Overcoming Your Sin

In 1899, a famous healing evangelist named John Alexander Dowie founded a Christian city north of Chicago, Illinois named Zion City. His desire was to create a modern-day Utopia by removing every temptation that could lead the city’s inhabitants astray.

In fact, in the city charter he outlawed sin. Really!

Zion City eventually grew to 6,000 people under Dowie’s leadership, but they were never able to achieve their goal of eradicating sin. Zion, Illinois exists to this day, but it resembles any other city.

The season of Lent tends to direct our focus to our sin. And why wouldn’t it when our sins were the reason Jesus was nailed to the cross on Good Friday? Traditionally, Lent commemorates the 40 days Jesus was tempted in the wilderness. So yes, Lent does expend a significant focus on sin.

Like all of you, I have spent a lifetime trying to rid myself of my earthier side. No matter how hard I try, no matter how much energy I expend, I often find that my efforts only make things worse.

Obviously, none of us will completely rid ourselves of our sinful condition until we pass through those pearly gates, but there is a better way to fight the ongoing battle with sin.

Abide in Christ.

Sounds overly simplistic, but it’s true.

The Best Way To Identify An Idol
When I make the focus of my life the eradication of sin, I make sin my focus. I’m actually abiding in my flesh—that part of me which craves sin. So it’s no surprise that I become further entrapped by it. Whatever we abide in, we become.

If I’m struggling with lust and trying not to think lustful thoughts, what am I focusing on, or abiding in? My lust.

Whatever I focus on becomes an object of worship. An idol. If I make finances the focus of my life—maybe I’m not making enough, maybe I just want to make more—then finances become my idol.

Ironically, it works the same way with love. If I focus on becoming a more loving person, who or what am I focusing on or abiding in? Ultimately it’s myself. And in the  end I simply become more self-absorbed and more frustrated because I’m not becoming a more loving person.

Jesus said, “He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5 ESV).

Anything good, anything fruitful that comes out of us isn’t the result of our efforts, but because Christ did it through us. Apart from Christ, we can do nothing.

The fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control—is the fruit of the Spirit’s work in our lives. In other words, you can’t produce the fruit of the Spirit on your own.

Stop Working On Your Sin!
So what part do we play? It doesn’t come by struggling with sin or trying to be more loving. Making laws outlawing sin like Alexander John Dowie did with Zion will never be successful.

All we can do is abide in Christ.

The word “abide” means to remain, stay, live, or dwell.

Abiding is not a matter of reading your Bible and praying nor does it mean white-knuckled obedience. It’s a matter of being. Believing.

To abide means to make your abode, your home with Christ.  To live with Christ. You don’t have to always say something to Him. But you know He’s there. You acknowledge Him. You enjoy fellowship and communion with one other.

Abiding in Christ means I take my mind off myself and my problems and onto him.

Steve McVey writes in his book Grace Walk, “The Christian life is not about Christ. It is Christ. It is God’s purpose to bring every Christian to the place where he no longer lives for self, but where Christ is allowed to live His life through us.”

That’s the paradox:  You can’t become more loving by trying harder to love. You can’t become patient by trying to be patient. You can’t overcome your addiction to porn by focusing on overcoming your addiction to porn. You don’t become like Jesus by trying to become like Jesus. You might as well throw away that WWJD bracelet.

We become like Jesus by being with Jesus. By communing with Jesus. By allowing Him to live His life through us. Loving through us.

And that is what Lent is all about.


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Is Believing in the Easter Bunny and Jesus the Same?

By Eugene C. Scott

Easter raises grave questions. Like why did the Easter Bunny stop coming when I turned ten years-old? Did I do something to offend him? And is pink a legitimate color? Really, pink?

But seriously. As bright and cheerful a holiday as Easter is, it can call us to consider deeper issues.

I only remember–well–two Easters from my childhood. One was a typical American Easter. My family owned horses and on this particular Easter Sunday we gathered all the aunts and uncles and cousins–a huge crowd–at the horse pasture for a picnic and Easter egg hunt. Surrounded by towering cottonwood trees, us kids tore up the moist spring earth hunting eggs. A Colorado blue sky soared above us. It was a blast.

Yet to my knowledge none of us asked why we and other entire families–an entire nation–took one spring Sunday to dress up, decorate eggs, eat ham, and celebrate. I knew nothing of going to church. What on earth were we celebrating?

Humans do many strange things. Not the least of which is contrive an entire commercial season/industry around a six-foot tall bunny that lays and delivers candy filled eggs. We are–if nothing else–inventive.

The other Easter I remember was also a typical American Easter, though atypical for me. That chilly spring Sunday in 1973 I joined thousands of others–billions worldwide–at an Easter worship gathering at Red Rocks Amphitheater west of Denver (see Lent: Is Your Life a Feast or Famine?). Unlike my other Easter memory, everyone knew why we rose with the sun and shivered in the cold mountain air.

Humans believe many strange things. At this point some of you may ask: what’s the difference between believing in a six-foot, egg laying bunny and a man who came back to life? No one I know personally has seen either. Both are highly improbable.

Yet there is a difference between believing in a still living Jesus and a big, cute bunny.

First, though no one I know has seen Jesus physically walking around their neighborhood, over 400 people in Jerusalem and its suburbs did see and touch him alive days after he was killed on the cross. No one over age ten–and maybe Jimmy Stewart–has seen a real, living Easter Bunny, however.

I know the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection is a deep pool and many good and intelligent people can argue both for or against it. That argument can take place in the comment section below or in a future blog. My point here is that credible people claimed to see Jesus alive after he died. That truth begs us to debate and discuss it’s veracity and this contention alone raises one reason for celebrating Easter well above the other.

Second, as I mentioned in the first paragraph, I believed in the Easter Bunny for ten long years. Sadly that belief changed nothing in my life, except maybe bestowing on me a life-long love of chocolate and the ensuing cavities and pimples. Believing or not believing in the Easter Bunny meant nothing.

Compare this with what happened to me in the years between that Easter in the horse pasture and the Easter at Red Rocks. In the summer of 1972–in the mountains above Colorado Springs–I met someone who so powerfully impacted me that I eventually gave up my suicidal life of drinking, drug abuse, fighting and failure. This person saved my very life. And though I still quit high school, this person convinced me I had value and worth–and eventually a purpose. Because of this person, I gave up self-loathing and came to understand the power of love. I no longer wallowed in my brokenness and mistakes, wishing I had never been born, but rather began to change from the inside out. Even in pain, I now had hope, sometimes even joy.

Before I met this person, I could not imagine living longer than age thirty. I had no dreams, hopes, plans. Today I am fifty-four (a very, very young fifty-four). Today I have more plans and hopes for the next year than I had for my whole life back then.

Who made such a difference for me? Who was this person?

You may have anticipated the answer–and some don’t want to hear it. Some want to relegate my dramatic change to anything and anyone else: luck, fate, determination, growing up.

But that June day, below the silent pines, my heart was empty and broken.  And I met not an Easter Bunny, not fate or luck, and I can promise you I had no determination and had no intention to grow up.

That day I met a living Person: Jesus. I could not see him nor touch him. And I may not be able to convince you Jesus lives. But I felt him and knew he was real and with me. With Jesus’ power and friendship, a newness began to grow in me as if my very cells were being recreated. I came to life that day because of someone who came back to life 2,000 years ago. We may laugh with children who believe in the Easter Bunny. But believing in Jesus has changed countless lives for thousands of year. The two cannot be compared.

The Easter Bunny and chocolate eggs and picnics are fun. But Easter raises grave questions because it is a celebration of Jesus being raised from the grave.

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

Beginning on March 13–the Sunday following Ash Wednesday–we will begin a Lenten series titled “Embrace: Discover, Desire . . . Jesus” at The Neighborhood Church.  During worship we will explore those things of God we can embrace and add to our lives as a response of love to Jesus.  These worship gatherings will also include hands-on opportunities to practice these things God asks us to add to our lives.  Join us.  See for worship times.


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The Cup of Salvation

Sent length

by Jadell M. Forman

On Mondays, I’ve been leading our discussion, using the Eucharist cup as a metaphor for life.

When some of my friends drive across Kansas, Nebraska, or the Dakotas, they see “nothing.”  With the best of intentions, they warn me before my solo road trips to be prepared to be bored as I drive through hundreds of miles of “empty” landscape.

My experience, however, proves to be quite different from theirs.  Instead of being bored, I’m energized, looking for signs of life to my right and left.  The signs of life are not stereo-typical: neon lights, moving traffic, bustling people.  Rather, I’m seeing invisible rhythms of farm and ranch life.  Wherever I see a fence, I look for livestock.  Wherever I see a meandering tree line, I look for a stream.  Wherever I see a grove, I look for barns, houses, equipment.

Not only do I see what’s there, I imagine what came before and what is to come: all the activity that goes into a planting and harvest season, the task of fixing a winter-damaged fence in preparation for the antsy livestock that have been confined in smaller places.  I see these things because I’ve had first-hand experience with them.

Likewise, whenever I read “The Cup of Salvation” (a chapter in Henri Nouwen’s book, Can You Drink the Cup?), I see rhythms unapparent to the many people who, like me, read and enjoy this Christian classic.  My perspective comes from first-hand experience with the depths of this chapter through a graduate-level discourse analysis.

Tacitly, upon my first reading over a decade ago, I knew there was something different about Nouwen’s small but profound book.  As a writer, I looked for clues in the patterns and methods of his writing.  Although I didn’t find much with my common tools of observation, I remained convinced that the short chapters were as rich in layer and luxury as Enya’s short songs.

My graduate-level class in advanced grammar and study of modern English provided me the tools I needed to locate and uncover, quantify and qualify the originality and rhythms in this book.  In addition to analyzing grammar (e.g., gerunds, pronouns, etc.), I analyzed and graphed sentence patterns and sentence lengths, where the rhythm aspect I’d tacitly sensed became academically visible.

It’s providential that, in a chapter on salvation, what I’d sensed tacitly, I came to know tangibly.  Why?  The same thing is happening to me personally: what I sense tacitly about God’s ongoing salvation, I desire to see tangibly.  In other words, I believe God saves all the time, but I don’t readily see it.

The belief is especially close-at-hand when those plains, pastures, and fields of my road trips look even more uniform under a layer of snow, like a black-and-white photo.  Even when the landscape looks frozen and barren, I can imagine the full-color version of what exists under that snow, and what life comes from the land.  I appreciate this picture as part of the rhythm.

So it is with salvation.  I still don’t readily see God’s ongoing salvation in the barren and cold landscape of our world’s history.  But neither did the psalmists, crying, “How long…?” and “Why…?”  As Eugene Peterson puts it:

Questions and protests regarding God’s absence are not marginal to salvation.  The psalmists are neither shy nor apologetic in giving us license to pray our complaints about the way this whole salvation business is being conducted” (Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, p 154).

Still, I believe, and pray to drink in this cup of salvation, just as I drink in the rural landscapes.

Jadell M. Forman writes for The Neighborhood Café on Mondays, and drinks in a rural landscape as often as possible.


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Spiritual Athletics To Strengthen Your Relationship With Jesus

During the fourth century, hundreds of ascetics sought to escape temptation by punishing their bodies and living as hermits. The extremes they endured in order to deny the gratification of their “physical lusts” seem incredible.

St. Ascepsimas wore so many chains that he was forced to crawl around on his hands and knees. Besarion, a monk, would not give in to his body’s desire for restful sleep—for forty years he refused to lie down while sleeping. Macarius the Younger sat naked in a swamp for six months until mosquito bites made him look like a leper. St. Maron spent eleven years in a hollowed-out tree trunk. Others lived in caves, dens of beasts, dry wells—even tombs.

The most celebrated ascetic, though, was Simeon the Stylite of Syria. He spent 37 years living on different pillars, each one higher and narrower than the last. His final pillar stood 66 feet high.

Whenever anyone mentions “spiritual disciplines” to me, the aforementioned images come to mind. Perhaps my distaste for them results from the ulcer I once developed while going on an extended fast.

Recently, while researching the meaning of Lent for church, I ran across some online articles explaining that Lent usually involves different spiritual disciplines (like fasting, prayer, silence) that help us keep our sinful nature in check.

Ughh, I thought to myself. Please…you can keep your hair shirt!

But then the realization occurred to me: more than keeping our sinful nature in check, Lent is about connecting to God. For 40 days, we make a concerted effort to deepen our relationship with our Maker. Mortifying the flesh, while important, doesn’t occur by focusing all of our energies on mortifying our flesh. Any recovering alcoholic will tell you that focusing all their energies on not drinking only drives them further toward the bottle.

Drinking deeply of Jesus, though, makes any other substitute seem like a poor knock-off.

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Interestingly enough, those well-known people who mortified their flesh are called “ascetics.” You know what English word comes from “ascetic”? Athletics. Through the spiritual disciplines we engage in spiritual “athletics” that strengthen our relationship with God.

This Lenten season, if you choose to choose to practice a spiritual discipline, focus on Jesus—not your sin.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrews 12:1–2

Disciplines of Abstinence:

  • Solitude
  • Silence
  • Fasting
  • Frugality
  • Chastity
  • Secrecy
  • Sacrifice

Disciplines of Engagement:

  • Study
  • Worship
  • Celebration
  • Service
  • Prayer
  • Fellowship
  • Confession
  • Submission

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


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Imagination: God’s Greatest Gift

By Eugene C. Scott

My mom was proof that, though humans were cast out and barred from the Garden, we took a piece of Eden with us, like dirt lodged under our fingernails. For nearly twenty-five years my mother lived in an ugly two-story brick apartment building in a part of the city that no longer had much going for it. No parks, few trees–buggy elms–and only the constant rush of cars going elsewhere surrounded her. Surely no garden.

Yet mom transformed that place. She had a wonderful imagination, an artist specializing in raising rose bushes. Every summer on the canvas of dirt between the apartments and where the cars nosed in to park she created a masterpiece of color and beauty. By mid July, red, yellow, white, burgundy, pink, and multicolored roses splashed their colors against the pale brick and rusted iron railing of that old building. Summer after summer people from all over the neighborhood streamed by to see what mom’s horticultural imagination had wrought.

When mom passed away in 2003, the whole neighborhood groaned in grief. For comfort, my family and I imagined mom, now healed of her emphysema, planting a rose garden in heaven, taking God’s best and giving it her own unique twist. Between tears we laughed and smiled at that picture.

Then at the memorial service, mom’s well-meaning and beloved pastor decided it was time to dispel that notion. We don’t know that there is gardening–or are even roses–in heaven, he said. He read a passage about heaven (I don’t remember which one) and told us heaven is not about continuing what we loved doing here but about being forgiven of our sins. He continued, Only what is true, not what is imagined can bring you comfort.

On one level he was right, of course. Even what we imagine heaven or God–or anything really wonderful–to be like will pale in light of God’s reality. My mom may well have gladly chucked her spade upon entering the Pearly Gates.

But . . .

Imagination is one of God’s greatest gifts. Imagine what life would be like without it (sorry).

Just think. Robert Adler imagined not having to get up from the couch to change the television channel. Viola, the remote control.

But seriously, you name it. If it exists, someone imagined it. Leif Enger’s surprising, glorious novel, “Peace Like a River,” “Star Wars,” the Internet, the artificial heart, my mom’s rose garden in the middle of a concrete jungle.

Imagination is also what infuses faith. As a matter of fact, faith would not be possible without God’s gift of imagination. By imagination I don’t mean only dreaming up Easter Bunnies. That’s only the starting place. I mean seeing something real that is not yet there–or is not there on the surface of things.

For example, some see the cross only as so much misused lumber or–today–mere jewelry. But Jesus imagined it as the ultimate instrument of healing. His death and resurrection made it so. Our God-given imaginations then let us see into the past as Jesus hung on that cross and at the same time gaze into the future as Jesus welcomes us back to the Garden.

This is the kind of imagination that thrilled atheist C. S. Lewis and made him see that “Nearly all that I loved I believed to be imaginary; nearly all that I believed to be real I thought grim and meaningless.” He read books, like George MacDonald’s fantasy, “Phantastes,” and found faith and Christ buried in the poetry and prose. His imagination was the tool God used to dig out those truths. Later, moving from atheism to belief in Christ, Lewis said his new faith came from having his imagination baptized. We know the end of that story. Lewis then used his baptized imagination to write stories that helped thousands believe in a God who came down into a weedy, overgrown garden to bring it back to its original state. Without an imagination Lewis, and you and I, would never believe.

Traditionally Lent is about fasting, giving up for a time what we think we have to help us yearn for and realize what we don’t yet believe we really do have. This Lent let God baptize your imagination. As Crystal Lewis sings, let God give you “beauty for ashes, strength for fear, gladness for mourning, peace for despair.”

God can and will show you the truth that he has planted beautiful roses even among the harsh, concrete reality of day-to-day life. As Paul said, God can do far more than we can hope or imagine.

So, what was that piece of the Garden, stuck under our fingernails, we took with us from Eden that day? Our ability to imagine what it once was and what it one day will be. And no matter what my mom’s pastor said, I can still imagine mom in the Garden–sleeves rolled up, dirt smeared face, smile a mile wide, pruning back a red rose. One day I’ll join her, I imagine.

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

Beginning on March 13–the Sunday following Ash Wednesday–we will begin a Lenten series titled “Embrace: Discover, Desire . . . Jesus” at The Neighborhood Church.  During worship we will explore those things of God we can embrace and add to our lives as a response of love to Jesus.  These worship gatherings will also include hands-on opportunities to practice these things God asks us to add to our lives.  Join us.  See for worship times.


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