Monthly Archives: March 2011

Drinking the Cup


by Jadell M. Forman

On Mondays at The Neighborhood Café, we’ve been looking at Jesus’ question, Can you drink the cup?, using the cup as a metaphor for life.  Today, we look at what comes after holding and lifting the cup: Drinking.

This past January, upon opening our look at the cup of life, you read this short but profound quote by Henri Nouwen:

  • At worst, drinking together is saying, “We trust each other enough that we don’t want to poison each other.”  At best, it is saying, “I want to get close to you and celebrate life with you.” (Can You Drink the Cup? p 80)

Nouwen is talking about those times when we meet someone for a cup of coffee or tea, invite friends over for a glass of wine or a bottle of beer, or offer a guest or thirsty stranger a glass of water.  Any degree of acceptance shows a measure of trust.

Friends trust each other.  But enemies distrust each other, trying to measuring motives, uncover tactics, and employ counter strategies.

In the movie, The Princess Bride, two enemies meet.  An impatient, pompous, pretentious villain who has captured the soon-to-be Princess Buttercup faces off with a masked pirate.  Dread Pirate Roberts has tracked Vizzini, in order to take Buttercup.  But the masked man finds himself, possibly, at “an impasse?”

Vizzini:    I’m afraid so. I can’t compete with you physically, and you’re no match for my brains.

Dread Pirate Roberts: You’re that smart?

Vizzini: Let me put it this way: have you ever heard of Plato,            Aristotle, Socrates?

Dread Pirate Roberts: Yes.

Vizzini:    Morons.

Dread Pirate Roberts:    Really. [pause] In that case, I challenge you to a            battle of wits.

Vizzini: For the princess? < Pirate nods > To the death? < Pirate nods > I accept.

Dread Pirate Roberts: Good. Then pour the wine.    [Roberts pulls out a small vial, and uncorks it]    Inhale this, but do not touch.

Vizzini: I smell nothing.

Dread Pirate Roberts:    What you do not smell is called Iocane powder. It is odorless, tasteless, dissolves instantly in liquid, and is among the more deadly poisons known to man.

Vizzini: Hmmmm.

Dread Pirate Roberts: < turns away from Vizzini with the goblets, and pours the poison in. Goblets replaced on the table, one in front of each. >
All right. Where is the poison? The battle of wits has begun. It ends when you decide and we both drink, and find out who is right…and who is dead.

Vizzini: But it’s so simple. All I have to do is divine from what I know of you: are you the sort of man who would put the poison into his own goblet or his enemy’s? Now, a clever man would put the poison into his own goblet, because he would know that only a great fool would reach for what he was given. I am not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the  wine in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool, you would have counted on it, so I  can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.

Dread Pirate Roberts: You’ve made your decision then?

Vizzini: Not remotely. Because iocane comes from Australia, as everyone knows, and Australia is entirely peopled with criminals, and criminals are used to having people not trust them, as you are not trusted by me, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of  you.

Dread Pirate Roberts: Truly, you have a dizzying intellect.

Vizzini: WAIT TILL I GET GOING! Where was I?

Dread Pirate Roberts: Australia.

Vizzini: Yes, Australia. And you must have suspected I would have known the powder’s origin, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.

Dread Pirate Roberts: You’re just stalling now.

Vizzini: You’d like to think that, wouldn’t you? You’ve beaten my giant, which means you’re exceptionally strong, so you could’ve put the poison in your own goblet, trusting on your strength to save you, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But, you’ve also bested my Spaniard, which means you must have studied, and in studying you must have learned that man is mortal, so you would have put the poison as far from yourself as possible, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.

Dread Pirate Roberts: You’re trying to trick me into giving away something.  It won’t work.

Vizzini:    IT HAS WORKED! YOU’VE GIVEN EVERYTHING AWAY! I KNOW WHERE THE POISON IS!

Dread Pirate Roberts: Then make your choice.

Vizzini: I will, and I choose– What in the world can that be?    [Vizzini gestures up and away from the table. Roberts looks]

Dread Pirate Roberts:    What? Where? I don’t see anything.

Vizzini: Well, I- I could have sworn I saw something. No matter.
[Vizzini smirks]

Dread Pirate Roberts:
What’s so funny?

Vizzini: I’ll tell you in a minute. First, let’s drink. Me from my glass, and you from yours. < they drink >

Dread Pirate Roberts: You guessed wrong.

Vizzini:    You only think I guessed wrong! That’s what’s so funny! I switched glasses when your back was turned!  Ha ha! You fool! You fell victim to one of the  classic blunders! The most famous is never get involved in a land war in Asia, but only slightly less well-known is this: never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line!! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!! Ha ha ha–[Vizzini stops suddenly, and falls dead to the right]

Buttercup:    Who are you?

Dread Pirate Roberts: I’m no one to be trifled with. That is all you ever need know.

Buttercup:  And to think, all that time it was your cup that was poisoned.

Dread Pirate Roberts:    They were both poisoned. I spent the last few years building up an immunity to iocane powder.

(SPOILER ALERT)

Buttercup, free from the now-dead Vizzini, finds herself in the hands of Dread Pirate Roberts.  Her current captor is her future deliverer and once true-love Wesley who had mysteriously disappeared some time ago.  But she doesn’t know that yet.  Clarity comes in time.

For years, I played the role of Vizzini in life, trying to figure out how to drink the cup without being poisoned.  In my mind, the Dread Pirate Roberts role was intermittently played by God, Satan, a friend, a stranger, or myself, depending on my mood, perspective, and momentary digestive health.

These days, I’m more often the blindfolded Buttercup, in the dark and waiting around to see how things shake out.  I’ve read enough of God’s story to be logically aware that things will shake out in my favor, but my emotions often betray me.  And I see many of us who “know better,” often betrayed by our emotions of fear, anger, frustration, depression, shame.  We get edgy when life doesn’t unfold the way we want or think it should.  It’s at times like this that we think we’re losing the duel and drinking the poison.

Even so, this mysterious True-Love-Deliverer ultimately wins the battle, my heart, and my life, just as Wesley eventually rescues Buttercup and wins her heart, and everyone (except Vizzini) lives happily ever after.

God’s rescue and love for all who trust him will turn out according to the script he wrote long ago in a land far away.  When the credits roll, and the blindfolds are removed, we’ll drink new wine with the True-Love-Deliverer at our soon-to-be wedding feast.

Jadell M. Forman writes for The Neighborhood Café on Mondays.

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One Reason Why So Many Men Could Care Less About God

By Michael J. Klassen

“How many of you would say that, growing up, you had a healthy relationship with your father? Would you raise your hands?”

Years ago I attended a church men’s retreat with about 80 other men. The speaker spent the weekend addressing the relationships between fathers and their sons. On Saturday morning, he asked us a probing question that generated a very unexpected response.

I raised my hand, assuming a good number of other men would join me. Ironically enough, the only hands raised were my father’s and mine. Out of 80 men!

“I’m not surprised,” the speaker confessed.

Then he organized us into groups of 4 or 5 and asked every participant to describe his relationship with his father.

Over the next two hours, multiple men in every group sobbed uncontrollably. The wailing drowned out the discussion. I’ve never seen so many men cry—even at a funeral.

My experience that weekend opened my eyes to the reason so many men struggle in their relationship with God.

Over my 24 years in pastoral ministry, I’ve noticed a pattern. Our view of God is often determined by the relationship we experienced with our fathers. Women, please don’t take offense at my observation, because none is intended. But to a great extent, our relationship with our earthly fathers affects the way we view God.

If you grew up without a father, chances are much greater that you tend toward believing in a God who either doesn’t exist or doesn’t care about you.

If you grew up with an abusive father, you likely believe that God is abusive with you.

If you grew up with a passive father, you believe God is powerless.

The same applies to manipulative fathers, deceptive fathers, unfaithful fathers…and good fathers.

Obviously, Jesus enjoyed a close, loving, intimate relationship with his father.

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Jesus’ Father Is Your Father

The correlation between earthly fathers and God shouldn’t come as a surprise. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he instructed them to begin by saying, “Our Father, who art in heaven.” Few if any people before Jesus addressed God Almighty as “father.” To many, the term of endearment was considered disrespectful.

He told us that when we pray, we should say, “Our Father who art in heaven.” It’s interesting that we address our father “in heaven,” because it tells us that although they’re similar, our earthly fathers still differ significantly from our heavenly fathers.

Furthermore, Jesus told us that his—and your—father is good (see Luke 18:19). Not only is he good, but he enjoys giving good gifts to his children:

“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11).

God gives us good gifts because he values us more than anything in creation.

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:26).

In fact, you mean the world to him.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16).

When the realization first hit me that God was my father, that he’s good, and that he really, really loves me, I could hardly believe it. But he does!

Join the conversation

  1. What was your experience with your father? How are/were they alike or different?
  2. How has your relationship with your earthly father (or lack thereof) affected your relationship with your heavenly father?
  3. How have you experienced God as your father?

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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Lent: Is Your Life a Feast or Famine?

By Eugene C. Scott

Easter Worship at Red Rocks Amphitheater

Several months after God first grabbed me by the heart (I was fifteen years old), I attended an Easter sunrise service at Red Rocks Amphitheater in the foothills west of Denver. Suddenly colored eggs, chocolate bunnies, and new Easter outfits paled as symbols of a holiday that affirms the resurrection and forgiving power of Jesus Christ. I remember–still–how guilt and shame, self hate and fear slid off my heart like a winter crust slides off a blade of spring grass. With Jesus living in me, my life switched from an old, grainy, black and white movie to full living color. Everything–sight, sound, joy, pain–reverberated with an edge, a flavor, that jolted me. As a musician who was popular back then, Phil Keaggy, sings, I felt

 

“Like waking up from the longest dream,

how real it seemed,

Until Your love broke through

I was lost in a fantasy

That blinded me,

Until Your love broke through.”

That Easter in 1973 I realized the reality of God’s love breaking into my life and beginning a revolution. Freedom reigned. My heart danced as my life became a whirlwind of much-needed change. Tragically, my list of sins to abandon was quite impressive for a mere fifteen-year-old, especially since I abandoned the same sins multiple times. Slowly my struggle against sin transformed my Christian life from a joyous explosion of forgiveness into a smoldering list of forbidden actions I never fully managed to avoid. Christianity lost its life and became an oppressive duty.

Don’t get me wrong. The Bible clearly communicates that sin makes us incompatible with God and the banquet he has planned for us. Drug abuse, lying, gossip, skipping school, and the like were good things to give up. But when Christianity degenerates into a constant striving against life, it loses its power for life. My freedom in Christ was swallowed by guilt and fear and dos and don’ts.

There’s a story about a Presbyterian who moved into a Catholic neighborhood. Each Friday he grilled himself a steak. His neighbors were sorely tempted as they dined on their traditional fish. Soon the Catholics took matters into their own hands and converted the Presbyterian to their flavor of Christianity. That following Sunday the Priest sprinkled water on the man saying, “You were born a Presbyterian, raised a Presbyterian, but now you are a Catholic.” His neighbors welcomed him into the fold warmly.

But that next Friday they were drawn to the new convert’s deck by the aroma of a tantalizing steak. As they stepped onto his deck, they saw him sprinkling a slab of meat with A1 saying, “You were born a cow, raised a cow, but now you are a fish.”

That joke betrays an all too common belief among Christians–Presbyterian, Catholic, Independent, whatever–that Christianity is comprised of rites, rituals, traditions, and laws. Therefore our faith becomes that which Jesus died to save it from: outward expressions of inward emptiness: legalism.

Next week millions of Christians worldwide will begin looking toward Easter and remembering the resurrection of Jesus by participating in the season of Lent.  Unfortunately, as beautiful and meaningful as Lent can be, for many it teeters on becoming the modern poster child for an empty legalistic faith. On Ash Wednesday thousands will begin a fast in which they will give up chocolate, soda, TV, or something similar.

The prophet Samuel confronted Israel’s first king, Saul, with these words: “To obey is better than sacrifice.”

What’s the difference between obedience and sacrifice? Obedience stipulates an inward desire to do what God has commanded not outward acquiescence. Jesus said, if we love him we will obey his words. Obedience is a response of love to God’s love. Further, obedience is taking God’s word in and then living it out. Jesus illustrated this with the story of a house that has been swept clean of its demons. But then, because the house remained empty, many more demons rushed back in. Obedience then is an outward expression of an inward fullness. Sacrifice often is an outward expression of an inward emptiness.

Fasting has its purpose: to remind us of our need for God. But be honest. Did giving up sweets last Lent really fill you with a deeper love for our Savior? My daughter once wondered why we don’t instead add something to our lives during Lent. In other words, embrace–take in–the good things God has for each of us. And if you choose to fast, give something up, that is not healthy for you, replace it with something that is. This Easter add the fullness of the Holy Spirit to your life. Instead of fasting, feast. Dine on the simple presence of God. Read the Bible to know God not just to wrest his will from its pages. Give yourself to God in worship. Be with God.

The Apostle Paul said the harvest of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. He did not intend this as a legalistic list, but an illustration of a life with the Holy Spirit permeating the soil of the soul. Like a crop in rich earth, the fruit of the Spirit thrives in a life filled with God. Fruit withers when disconnected from the branch. If your faith is a series of outward responses based on an inward emptiness, hanging fruit on yourself will only weigh you down.

As Lent leads us toward Easter, feast on outward expressions of inward fullness; fast from outward expressions of inward emptiness. Is your life a feast or a famine? God desires it to be a banquet of freedom, forgiveness, and his very presence.

********

Beginning on March 13–the Sunday following Ash Wednesday–we will begin a Lenten series at The Neighborhood Church titled

“Embrace: Discover, Desire . . . Jesus”

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 tnc3.org for worship times.

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. www.bibleconversation.com. Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO

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