Monthly Archives: July 2011

All in

by Michael J. Klassen

Are you “all in”?

Centuries ago, kings converted to Christianity on behalf of their kingdom. Constantine (272-337AD), the Roman emperor, is the most well-known example, whose singular decision to become a Christian resulted in the “conversion” of thousands, perhaps millions, of people. Regardless of Constantine’s motivation, many people made sincere commitments to Christ as a result of his Edict of Milan in 313AD.

Oftentimes, when kingdoms “converted” to Christianity, their subjects were baptized en masse. One by one, clergy submerged tens, even hundreds, of people into the waters of baptism. The baptismal candidates understood that immersing themselves in the water meant immersing themselves in the faith.

But one particular group of people added a twist to their baptismal experience. Soldiers, as they were lowered backward into the waters, foisted their right arms in the air to avoid being completely submerged.

They were 85% “in” rather than 100%, or “all in”.

Their reason? Knowing that completely immersing themselves in the water—which they rightfully equated with immersing themselves in Christ—meant they could no longer kill their enemies on the battlefield (or at home), they chose to give him 85 percent. Their right arms wielded their swords.

This reminds me of Jesus’ parable about the hidden treasure and the pearl.

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”

Matthew 13:44–46 (NIV)

When Jesus called people to follow him, he wanted them “all in” 100 percent. Not 90 percent or 10 percent. Both subjects in his parables sold everything they had to win the prize. Everything.

All of us wrestle with the other 15 percent or whatever amount is true for us. And the contents of that 15 percent can vary. For some, it may include unforgiveness. To another it can involve an area of sexual brokenness or trust in God. We all have our reasons for wanting to hold back in our relationship with God.

But what is the cost of holding back?

In the same parable, Jesus likened the kingdom of heaven to a treasure and a pearl of great price. All too often we hang on to a piece of hell when heaven lies within our reach. We opt for oppression, addiction, fear, mistrust—darkness—instead of freedom, light, and God’s love.

Believe me, I’m talking to myself as I write this. When Jesus called us to follow him, he called us to trade all our shame, our addictions, our brokenness, our sin—in exchange for life. Real life. And Jesus.

Sounds like a losing proposition on God’s part. But that’s yet another example of God’s great love for us.

Michael serves as co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado.


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What If “The Hunger Games” Were True? A Book Review

By Eugene C. Scott

What if?

“What if” is frequently the central question submerged in good fiction. C.S. Lewis asked, what if a Christ figure came into a completely different world from the one we know? In answer to his question, Lewis invented Aslan the Lion and Narnia. J.K. Rowling seemed to ask what if there were an invisible, magical world existing alongside ours and in that world of wonderful, powerful magic, love was the most powerful force of all? Hogwarts and Harry Potter sprang to life.

Suzanne Collins, author of the New York Times best sellers, The Hunger Games Trilogy, asked an age-old science-fiction question: what if the world as we know it was destroyed, leaving only a remnant of human life.

Collins’ trilogy tells the sad, violent story of Katniss Everdeen, a 16 year-old girl living in the dystopian world of Panem–all that is left of the United States after a nuclear war–with her emotionally broken mother and her 12 year-old sister, Prim. Panem is divided into 12 districts ruled from the Capitol by a malignant government. The outlying districts function as slave labor. The ultimate tyranny of the Capitol is that once a year two children, ages 12-18, are chosen from each district to compete to the death in The Hunger Games. The chosen children must murder each other with only one walking out scarred but alive.

Collins is a good writer and an even better story-teller; her best talent being pacing. Her prose is nearly invisible and sparse, which fits the story. But the books do contain literary elements. Collins lays in many bigger themes worth mining for, if one chooses to do so.

Katniss is as conflicted and as complicated as this type of story can bear. Her complacency with and repulsion to the evil in her world is realistic. Her search for love and for her purpose is obvious but well told.

Also to Collins‘ credit, the high level of violence fits the story, if not the YA label the book carries. Like Rowling, she is not afraid to kill off several main characters.

These books deserve the stir they have caused and are not only worth reading but are worth discussing.

Especially meriting conversation is one “what if” Collins may not have placed in the books intentionally.

What if God did not exist? Nowhere in the three books is there any hint of a belief in a higher power. It’s as if religion were the main target of the bombs. No character uses spiritual language, even in non-technical, slang ways. When one character close to Katniss dies, Katniss almost pictures an after life, but not quite. No one cries out against God for the evil God is allowing nor does anyone cry out to God for help. Rather a song Katniss’ father taught her, that she remembers in her toughest times, seems to reflect a belief that in the world of Panem, this difficult, unpredictable, unfair, unjust world is all we get.

Near the end of the last book, one character comforts Katniss by telling her humans may yet evolve away from senseless evil and into love. Maybe, maybe not.

This is not a criticism of Collins or the books. The books do contain humor, love, and insight. And Collins may have built her dystopian world this way on purpose. There are two books of the Bible where God is never mentioned. God’s absence there is as powerful of a message as being there. Sometimes a need is best pointed out by its absence.

What would the world look like without God? Unfortunately, because of our refusal to grab God’s outstretched hand, there is violence and ugliness worse than in The Hunger Games. The difference being that without God there is no real reason to believe we can learn and change. Evolution promises no such advances.

Fortunately, God’s presence gives real hope and tangible help. Looking at history the only cultures to seriously slow the march of evil have been those directly impacted by the intervention of God and the Incarnation of Christ. And even those cultures have been flawed. Imagine where we could be without Christ coming? Unintentionally or intentionally The Hunger Games imagines that world.

For my part, this is what I liked about these stories. They left me with questions.

Too much story-telling in the Christian world seems afraid to let God narrate to the reader out of the story and therefore, the human narrator provides pat answers and unrealistic solutions. I believe God can and does speak even through stories that contain no overt mention of God.

It could also be true that Collins may actually believe there is no such Person as God. Thus a fictional world that contains only the slightest thread of human hope may actually exist for her and for many others. I don’t know. Our continual propensity toward evil makes such a belief more plausible.

This, along with a story well told, is what brought tears to my eyes at the end of The Hunger Games Trilogy. I was crying for Katniss as an archetype of the modern person.

Eugene C. Scott is co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church


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Surprised by Joy: The Pursuit of Happiness

by Michael Gallup

The summer of 2004 found me on the journey many of my generation have found themselves on, I was trying to “find myself.” More specifically I was trying to find happiness. I had been diagnosed with depression and placed on medication. While I found some relief in my meds, the depression still placed heavy chains around me.

So in a quest to figure out why I was so sad, I spent the summer engaging in the places, people, and things that had brought me the most happiness in my short life. I built docks with my dad and brother on the coast of South Carolina, I visited my mom in the Ozarks of Arkansas, I traveled across the country following my favorite band at the time, and I spent time with my friends. Each time I would taste the once distant happiness but each time the overwhelming feeling of emptiness would return, but I kept looking.

Amazingly enough I found some semblance of an answer at the end of that summer. In a bit of what seemed like an epiphany I realized that what made me happy most was to make others happy. After the elation of that discovery wore off I was sobered with the striking truth of the fleeting nature of happiness and thus my depression intensified. What made me fleetingly happy was to make others fleetingly happy. It all seemed to be such a waste.

Thankfully this was not the end of my story, I would later realize that much more important to me than happiness was love and that what most fulfilled me was the empting of myself in love for others. This has become the mission of my life: to love. Somehow I was given to grace to move beyond what made me happy to what I loved, yet I am not so sure that the church has embraced this grace fully yet.

I mentioned last week that I found myself in a similar place recently to that of my depression six years ago. I knew that joy, a fruit of the blessed Spirit, was supposed to be a defining marker of my faith and yet I felt just as sad now as I did those few years prior. What was wrong with me?

I began to ask God some hard questions about who He is and who I am and what joy really is. But before God could show me what joy was, he had to show me what it isn’t.

Joy is not happiness.

This came as a shock to me; the words were practically synonymous in my vocabulary, totally interchangeable. But I was wrong, these are two rather different words and the first steps towards freedom for me was to accept this.

Accepting that happiness is not the marker of our faith is a hard pill to swallow. It is core to who we are as Americans, after all the pursuit of happiness is one of our unalienable rights. Yet the pursuit of my happiness had left me wanting, even more depressed than when I started.

This myth has infected our churches. When trying to find a new church home I would often leave feeling dirty because everyone was so “happy” and I was not. One of my close friends recently visited TNC and remarked that he liked the visit mainly because we were not “happy-clappy.” I took this as a compliment. For some reason, we have come to think that to be Christian means to be happy and this is not honest and ultimately, I think, not Christian. Being happy is not bad in itself but the pursuit of happiness is a pursuit away from joy, away from truth.

Happiness is purely circumstantial; it has little lasting power and is often self-serving. My desire to know joy was misguided because I was trying to find it in the wrong places.

But where was I supposed to look? The answer to that question was the most shocking revelation yet. God was beginning to teach me the hard lesson that I could find joy even my most sad moments that those places of my deepest hurt may end up being the very place of my greatest joy. How could this be?

Michael is a student at Denver Seminary. This is part two of a five part series asking hard questions about the nature of joy. You can read Michael’s blog, A Sprig of Hope, by clicking here:


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Open Your Eyes To The Adventure

It wasn’t raining cats and dogs—it was coming down more like boulders and trees. Not something anyone wants when you and nine other people are crammed into a 40 foot houseboat.

Last week I made my annual pilgrimage—our seventh in a row—to Lake Powell in southern Utah. The lake is really the Colorado River with a dam at the Utah/Arizona border. Further south it becomes the Grand Canyon. So imagine a lake encompassed by Grand Canyon-like walls and 96 smaller canyons porcupining the edges.

If you spend much time with Kelley and me, you’ve probably grown tired of our constant references to our favorite vacation spot…unless you’ve been there. The views are breathtaking and the water is perfect for outdoor water sports, especially water skiing.

Hence our disappointment with the fierce mid-morning downpour. After securing our air mattresses on top of the houseboat and collecting our towels that were drying on the deck, we shoehorned all 10 people into an area no bigger than an average-sized bedroom. And we waited for the storm to clear.

Bored and disappointed, I poked my head out of the front of the boat, which was facing the canyon wall and looked to the side, awestruck by the immense volumes of water that were coming down. Then suddenly, I heard this shush-ing behind me. “Look!” someone cried out.

Immediately to my left, a huge waterfall began forming. A good friend had told me this happens during heavy rainstorms on the canyon, but I had forgotten. About 250 yards away, sheets of water were blanketing the monolithic stone wall. After a few moments, the cascade focused into a 20 foot wide, constantly shifting stream that began 300 feet above.

I could hardly believe my eyes.

Suddenly, my friend Charles jumped off the boat and began climbing over the rocky surface toward the falls. Why didn’t I think of that? I asked myself. Then I threw on my shoes and followed him. To my amazement, Charles’ 10 year old son was halfway between us, trekking toward the adventure. He wasn’t wearing any shoes, but he didn’t let that tidbit of trivia deter him.

Finally, after a 10 minute climb, I found myself beneath the streaming water. Overwhelmed by the exhilarating, once-in-a-lifetime experience, I began yelling at the top of my lungs.

Ten minutes later the storm ended and ten minutes after that, the falls subsided and we began our hike back to the boat.

Here’s what I learned from the experience:

We can watch the adventure or we can join it. All too often, I settle for watching the adventure take place. If Charles hadn’t led the way, I would have watched the unbelievable experience rather than joined it.

Disappointments can BE the adventure.  Initially, I was pretty disheartened by the morning rainstorm—it was upsetting my plans. But in the end, the storm presented me with a experience that I’ll never forget. Disappointments can be like that. I don’t want to overspiritualize it, but when Scripture tells us that “in all things God works for the good” (Romans 8:28), I think he meant it.

I doubt he sent a rainstorm solely so we could enjoy the waterfall, but on a greater level, our disappointments, our storms, our pain, can work toward a greater good. For our good. If we’re committed to his purposes and we keep our eyes open to the adventure.

Michael serves as co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado.

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W.W.H.P.D?: What Would Harry Potter Do?

By Eugene C. Scott

Of all the battles Harry Potter faces, one is paramount. Not his conflict with Draco Malfoy, Professor Snape, the Dementors, the sweetly evil Dolores Umbridge, not even with Him-Who Must-Not-be-Named, Lord Voldemort. Rather this battle is more personal, more realistic, more tragic. Closer to home. This struggle is the emotional core of the entire Harry Potter series. Harry never met his parents. He knows not his mother.

Suppose, like Harry, you only had the opportunity to know your mother through secondary sources. Let’s say you only knew your mother through what others said about her, a few moving pictures, and reading pieces of her journal and old letters. But you never met her, heard her sing, kissed her cheek, asked her questions, smelled her hair, knew why she died for you.

If that were your story–or mine, then, like Harry, we could not say we truly knew our mothers. Not in that deepest sense of knowing. At best we could only nod sadly and say we knew of our mothers. In that situation many of us would ache for our mothers, that touch, that intimacy. A pain made worse when someone says, “You look just like her” or “Too bad you never met her.” That desire to know–truly know–would drive our stories, our lives as desperately as Harry’s.

This is the exact non-fiction situation humanity faces in knowing God. We know of God through secondary sources: what others say about God, artists depictions, reading pieces of God’s journal and old letters (otherwise known as the Bible). But we’ve never met God, heard his voice, touched him, looked in his eyes. And it drives us insane.

This distance, this yearning for, this knowing of while not being intimate with God troubled God. A tragedy every bit as dire as Harry’s.

Study, dig, argue, theorize, reason, pray, pry, beg, try as we might, intimacy–true knowing of God–escaped us.

Into this impossible situation strode a Jewish carpenter named Jesus saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. . . . I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” John 14:1, 6-7

Today this statement strikes many as too exclusive, ludicrous, audacious.

How could Jesus claim to be the only way to come to and know God? There must be many ways to God.

Would it be exclusive, unfair, or restrictive, however, of me to say, “I am the only way to truly know me”?

You can search secondary sources to learn of me, pictures, old sermons, hearsay, rumors. But if you want to know Eugene C. Scott, you can do so only through Eugene C. Scott. My wife, the person who knows me best, can show you one piece of my puzzle. My children more pieces. My life-long friend Jay a few more. My other friends and congregation a piece here and there. But many pieces are missing unless I too reveal myself to you.

Harry wanted nothing more than to meet, face to face with his parents. The whole magical and muggle world could be damned.

This truth was the core of Jesus‘ Incarnation, God becoming flesh. God saw the tragic limits of secondary sources and bridged them. And Jesus’ life proved his claim of Being Divinity Among us true. Jesus exerted an authority over nature, demons, illness, people, arguments, and finally death that only God could hold. Jesus was God in flesh. Thus it is not audacious or restrictive for Jesus to claim to be the only way for each of us to come to or know God. It is the opposite. By so saying Jesus throws the door to intimacy with the Father wide open.

This doesn’t mean we can’t learn something about God through Buddha, the gods of the Hindus, from Islam, and even certain strains of Christianity. But they are all secondary sources and prone to misinterpretation and often downright error. Jesus’ seemingly exclusive claim then is actually inclusive. He intends to include you and me.

Back to Harry.  Suppose Lilly Potter walked back into Harry’s life.

What would Harry Potter do?

Suppose Jesus walked into our world spreading his powerful, loving arms wide and saying to one and all, “Here I AM. Know ME.”

What would you do?

Eugene is co-pastor of  The Neighborhood Church.


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Surprised by Joy

One night this past summer, much like most nights, I laid in bed and instead of sleep, I found emptiness to be my embrace. As I stared at the popcorn texture on the ceiling of my bedroom, I wondered how I ever ended up in this place. I didn’t mean my apartment but in the state of emptiness that I now felt consumed by.

Michala, Mary Grace, and I had recently visited my childhood home of Pawleys Island, SC. While we stuffed ourselves on ribs and boiled peanuts, our sense of awe was also filled with the breath-taking beauty of the South Carolina lowcountry. Some folks think us South Carolinians are arrogant (and they are probably right) but it is hard not to have a pride of life living in a place with such a sense of mystique.

Located a few miles north of Pawleys is an old plantation that has been reinvented as an enormous sculpture garden called Brookgreen Gardens. Leaving Mary Grace with her Papa Johnny, Michala and I set out to continue our gluttonous consumption of beauty, and we were not disappointed. Brookgreen is larger than life, spanning 9,000 acres and several miles of coast upon the Waccamaw River. Michala and I forgot about the 90 plus degree weather coupled with an almost surreal level of humidity as we walked beneath the limbs of 300 year-old, moss draped live oak trees. We felt like kids again in this wonderful place, as if we had walked through a wardrobe to get to this Narnia.

Yet the one thing that most struck me, seared my soul even, was the sculpture entitled “Frog Baby” (pictured above, click to enlarge). In this artist’s depiction of young boy’s reaction after he has snared two frogs, the frog baby gazes heavenward with a smile that leaves the viewer both inwardly renewed and yet haunted to the core. Most of the people in our group produced similar outward reaction, that of laughter mixed with a hint of scoff. Yet the boy’s face has not failed to leave me alone in the time since we met. In fact it is more of a haunting than anything, the way it stays with me.

I have been left to ponder why would this expression of sheer joy would be so haunting.

I saw that same face again later upon my daughter. As we were preparing for church one morning, I took it upon my self to dance with Mary Grace. I dipped and dunked as she held on to me, curious as to what brought on such silliness and then I spun her around. At first her face only knew shock, but that was quickly wiped away by joy, leaving me looking into the smile of the frog baby.

The feeling I felt at that moment can best be described as mourning. I saw a ghost of myself reflected in her pure joy. That afternoon, I weaped, thankful for my daughter’s innocence but also despairing the death of my childhood. After choosing to follow Jesus just over 5 years prior, I was told that one of the core markings of His followers would be joy, and yet not only did joy seem like a distant memory, I feared I would never again taste its sweetness.

Not content to accept my joyless fate, I began to ask myself and God some hard questions. What is Joy? Where does Joy come from? How can I be happy in the midst of so much suffering in the world? Will I ever feel Joy again? And to my surprise, I began to find answers and even a bit of joy as well. The next four Mondays, I will be exploring the questions I asked and the answers I found. Join me in asking the hard questions for which only silence in the presence of God can bring relief. Join me in the joy of discovering ourselves surprised at just how good the answers and our God can be.

Michael is a student at Denver Seminary. His wife Michala, is the Director of Children’s Ministry at The Neighborhood Church.


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The Only Life That’s Pleasing To God (Part 3)…And It’s Not What You Think!

Two people are struggling with cancer. Both cling closely to God, asking him to raise them up from their death bed. One person dies and the other miraculously recovers. Which one had greater faith?

The answer might surprise you.

We’ve now entered the third and final installment of our weekly series on faith. This is an important subject because the Bible clearly tells us that without faith it’s impossible—IMPOSSIBLE—to please God (see Hebrews 11:6). If you’re interested in reading the other posts, click here and then here.

The Life That’s Pleasing To God Isn’t Necessarily Defined By Answers To Your Prayers

Through childhood and even much of my adult life, I envisioned the man or woman of great faith as the person who partners with God to overcome any obstacles that stand in their way. They successfully fight cancer. Proclaim the gospel in the midst of persecution yet go unharmed. Believe that God will rescue them in their finances—and he does.

In other words, I sought to emulate the people who enjoyed the fruit of their faith. And I would be remiss not to acknowledge their great faith.

But they aren’t the only people with great faith.

In Hebrews 11:1, the anonymous writer defines faith as “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Funny, the person mentions nothing about receiving anything in the present. Nevertheless, we read further in the same chapter about people like Enoch and Noah who experienced the reward of their faith in the here and now.

A little further, we read about Abraham, who abandoned the safety and comforts of home to seek a better country. But alas, we read that he and his heirs lived in tents—a sign that they never completely settled. For generations.

The Life That’s Pleasing To God Sometimes Means NOT Getting What You Pray For

In Hebrews 11:13, the writer describes great men and women of faith:

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.

Did you catch that? They did not receive the things promised. In other words, faith isn’t necessarily defined by what we receive in this life.

Further on in the chapter, we read more about other people of faith. You might find this fairly disconcerting:

Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated” (Hebrews 11:36–37).

Doesn’t sound like a modern-day example of faith. The writer concludes by saying

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect” (Hebrews 11:39–40 italics added).

Living By Faith Means Living From An Eternal Perspective

Not one person who really lives by faith—who lives in a way that’s pleasing to God—receives in this life what has been promised. The truest picture of faith is relying on God completely in this life knowing that the full reward comes in the next life.

Now that’s called living from an eternal perspective.

So if you’ve been praying for God to rescue you, and you’re still clinging to God, you’re a man or woman of faith.

If you’re still unemployed but you haven’t given up your faith in God, you’re a man or woman of faith.

If you’re you’re still praying for a son or daughter who has strayed from God, you’re a man or woman of faith.

I find this fact tremendously encouraging. All too often I think we formulate a picture of the life that’s pleasing to God that is totally unrealistic. Faith isn’t defined by getting what we want in this life, it’s defined by our continued trust and reliance on God throughout our lives regardless of the outcome. It’s rests on the belief that the world to come is so much better than anything in the present.

So…keep the faith!

Michael serves as co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado.


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Can Life’s Problems Be Solved by Slogans?

By Eugene C. Scott

We are enamored with slogans. If it can’t be said in three to seven words, seems it ain’t worth saying. Take for example the saying, “Everything happens for a reason.” This saying is usually uttered during some disappointing or tragic event. But what does it mean? Are hard things easier if they have a reason?

Similar is “If God closes a door, God usually opens a window.” When I hear that phrase, I always check to see if I’m on the ground floor. Both phrases are rather deterministic, a kind of shrug of the shoulders at fate or God, whichever you happen to believe is master of the cosmos. It’s not as if either saying can change anything.

Another slogan that leaves me wanting is “Leave No Trace.” I understand the sentiment. I do! I am a conservationist. What the sloganeers are trying to communicate in a pithy, memorable way is not to pick flora, kill fauna, autograph trees, dig holes, throw rocks, toss trash, trash talk, cause erosion, burn down forests, start avalanches, or produce global warming while on an afternoon hike. These are good things not to do.

And placing all of the necessary restrictions on one sign would be ridiculous, unless you live in Boulder, CO where the above sentence qualifies as a slogan. But three words simply cannot adequately sum up the importance of good stewardship of our world, especially in the wild. Reducing the concept of conservation to a slogan may actually diminish the message. Another problem with the “Leave No Trace” slogan is it is impossible. Simply observing something may actually leave a trace.

The reality is, try as we might, life’s complexities can’t be summed up in a sound bite. And the more often we try to jam the mysteries of life into small spaces the more often we lose the gist of the problem we’re trying to capsulize and possibly the gist of life itself. When slogans don’t solve anything, people may simply despair trying.

For that matter the two phrases “Leave No Trace” and “Everything Happens for a Reason” contradict one another. Genetically and theologically we are built to leave a trace. Humans are consumed with finding a purpose in positive and negative events and also with leaving our mark on the world. Life would truly be meaningless if each of us left no trace.

Besides no saying can save the planet. Worse yet an easy slogan may even let us off hook for the hard, complicated, and sometimes, contradictory work God has for us in being stewards of this great planet. Further no slogan can explain the death of a child or onset of a disease. Nor can it deflect the pain.

What if what God has for us is not escaping from trouble through a small window but living in a world without doors or windows or walls that leaves us vulnerable to God’s very presence, completely understood or not? Biblical sufferer Job could have summed up his suffering by saying, “stuff happens.” Instead Job asked God hard questions and waited for even harder answers.

Neither of which could be reduced to a slogan.

Condensed life, like condensed milk, needs something added in order to make it palatable. In a culture where fast food is the norm we also want fast answers. But fast doesn’t always equal good. Life, with its recipe of trouble and triumph mixed with pain and promise, is too rich to be reduced to a slogan. In the end bumper sticker theology or philosophy fail us. God especially can’t be summed up in a slogan.

God told Isaiah, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” At no time is the truth of that claim more obvious than when we are being insulted by the latest catch phrase or slogan reducing life’s mystery and problems to its least common denominator much less minimizing God’s grand creation to a sound bite.

Eugene is co-pastor of  The Neighborhood Church.


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A Seat at the Table

By Michael Gallup

Every Thanksgiving, my family congregates at Grandma’s house for a feast, sometimes as many as 60 people in attendance. My Dad would tell the story about his first Pierce Thanksgiving. He described a washtub of dressing, nine pies, and what he thought amounted to enough food to feed an army. However, he underestimated the appetites of the Pierce army and after taking a nap found my Uncle Jimmy picking the last scraps of meat off of the turkey carcass.

I can assure you that this feeding frenzy we call Thanksgiving has not ceased to be a furious survival of the fittest at Grandma’s house. There is little decorum to these meals, most carry a fork in their front pockets so that they can sample the goods before Grandma prays and we take turns trying to cut each other in line and pushing the capacity of our paper plates to their limits. Yet there is one aspect of this meal that us newcomers refuse to intrude upon, who sits at the table.

Like I said, sometimes as many as 60 people show up for this meal and sit all sorts of places, on stumps, lawn chairs, the floor, but a few, only about three, sit at the table. These are usually my uncles: Jesse, Steve, Rocky, and Jimmy. Although no one has ever stated that it is off limits to sit there, I wouldn’t dare presume to take a chance. Sometimes they do let others sit there, my brother has before and some of my cousins, but none of them lasted very long; my uncles are a tough bunch to sit with I promise you. Throughout my years of sharing this meal, I like my dad, have learned a few lessons, but most of all I learned that you must earn your seat at the table.

Jesus finds himself ,strange enough, at a table similar to my Grandma’s. One Sabbath after the Jewish equivalent of church, he is invited to a meal at a religious leader’s house. There he finds that this extension of hospitality was actually far from it, the host sought to test his guests to evaluate their worth to sit at his table.

Jesus, clever as always, addresses this act of inhospitability by reversing the table, he points to another recipient of the host’s up-turned nose, a man with swollen joints. Jesus asks the group what is the right thing to do on this day, to heal or not to heal? The party remains silent, the answer is clear enough but in the answer they find their hypocrisy revealed.

The Sabbath was a day to let go and let God, but they were using it to jockey for position, to earn a right to sit at the table. Instead of showing hospitality to the injured man, they ignore him because he is in their way. Yet Jesus refuses to let them go along in such a manner. Into their silence, he tells them a story that gives flesh to the skeleton of a meal they are sharing. He says:

“When someone invites you to dinner, don’t take the place of honor. Somebody more important than you might have been invited by the host. Then he’ll come and call out in front of everybody, ‘You’re in the wrong place. The place of honor belongs to this man.’ Red-faced, you’ll have to make your way to the very last table, the only place left.

“When you’re invited to dinner, go and sit at the last place. Then when the host comes he may very well say, ‘Friend, come up to the front.’ That will give the dinner guests something to talk about! What I’m saying is, If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face. But if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.”

Meals are indeed sacred; times when, if we are true to their intent, we are brought to the same level. We all need meat and bread, we each need sustenance and are utterly dependent upon God and each other for this food. Meals are a time to share our hopes and jokes, time to not only share the gravy but our very lives.

Yet we, like the religious leaders Jesus speaks this story to, have perverted the intent of a meal. It has become a time to hoard as opposed to a time to give, a time to expose our power over another as opposed to a time to humble ourselves, and a time to lament our lack as opposed to a time to praise our abundance. But the beauty of this story like most of Jesus’ stories is that it not only exposes our deficiencies, it also offers hope of a better story.

In our humility, Jesus says, we find honor. I said that I never presumed to sit at the table with my uncles; this was not because I had some great sense of humility but because I was scared of them. They are some big bad dudes, but through the years I’ve sought to honor the men who grew up with my Momma and in small ways I’ve had some of the honor and even respect reciprocated. And I promise you, those few moments and words have been some of the sweetest in my life.

I think that all along, if I simply had the courage, I could have found a seat at their table, there was always room, because they had no need to prove themselves to anyone, least of all me. “But these strict Sabbath-keepers had their eyes first on Jesus to see what he was going to do, then on one another to see how they could take advantage of one another. They were betraying the Sabbath in the very act of ‘protecting’ it.” And we betray ourselves when we use the good things God has given us to somehow prove ourselves.

May we lower our noses and seek the last place and perhaps we may hear Christ himself say to us, “Friend, come up front.”

Michael is an aspiring church-planter and student at Denver Seminary. You can read his blog, A Sprig of Hope, by clicking here.


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The Only Life That’s Pleasing To God (Part 2)

By Michael J. Klassen


The word practically jumped out of my mouth that moment on New Year’s morning, 2008, because I knew what was coming. In a few days I planned to resign my position without any idea of how we would pay the bills.

Years ago, bumper stickers emblazoned with the hopeful observation that “$#*&!! Happens” were popular. Well, I had a strong feeling that $#*&!! was about to happen.

Last week, we explored the only life that’s pleasing to God. The writer of Hebrews tells us that “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). The apostle Paul adds, “Everything that does not come from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). Furthermore, he writes “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6).

Faith is obviously important to God.

He wants us living in such a way that we need to rely on him. It means prayerfully taking a faith jump and depending on him to catch us just before we hit the ground. (If you haven’t already, click on the link at the beginning of this post. It’s an exhilarating example of taking the faith jump.)

Here’s the bottom line: God wants to play an intimate role in our life. God doesn’t want to be a part of our life, he wants to be our life.

So how do we get there?

You Can’t Live A Life That’s Pleasing To God On Your Own

Faith isn’t equivalent to sweat; you can’t force it out of you. Nor is it the result of finding a Bible verse that applies to your situation which you quote over and over until your “faith” forces God to surrender to your request.

You might find this a little frustrating (it did to me that January morning), but we can’t manufacture faith on our own. The writer of Hebrews states Jesus is the author, pioneer, or founder of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). Other Scripture passages communicate the same thing—faith comes from God (see Romans 12:3). While this is true, that doesn’t mean that we should sit around waiting for God to suddenly impart faith to us, like a bolt of lightening.

This places us in a precarious position. Without faith, it’s impossible to please God; everything that doesn’t come from faith is sin. Yet we cannot generate our own faith. We’re stuck!

The Life That’s Pleasing To God Usually Includes Problems

Which brings us back to my New Years’ morning. Contemplating my impending resignation announcement, I asked God to show me what the new year would look like. That’s when I sensed God whispering deep inside me,

This year, I’m going to strengthen your faith.

Hence my guttural reply.

I knew that the only way faith can be strengthened is by placing it in the position where it is needed, or exercised like a muscle. In other words, the upcoming year would be a test of my faith.

EM Bounds, the great apostle of prayer, once wrote,

Prayer in its highest form and grandest success assumes the attitude of a wrestler with God. It is the contest, trial, and victory of faith; a victory not secured from an enemy, but from him who tries our faith that he may enlarge it; that tests our strength to make us stronger (Power Through Prayer).

Quite often, God tries our faith in order to enlarge it and to make it stronger.

At the same time, I would be remiss to ignore one other important ingredient to strengthening our faith. Paul wrote that “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).

The measure of faith every believer receives—even as small as a mustard seed—comes from God. Hearing, reading, and meditating on God’s word—which is really Jesus speaking to us because he’s the Word made flesh (John 1:1,14)—waters those seeds. Hardship forces us to go to God in prayer and seek his intervention. Then, as we see him respond, our faith is strengthened.

So what did 2008 look like for us? Constant challenges, usually related to finances. Yet somehow, the challenges never kept me awake at night. We paid our bills. God led me to Eugene Scott and we began working on planting The Neighborhood Church. And I decided I never wanted to live safe again.

Obviously, life rarely follows our plans nor does it come together as neatly as we wish. But when faith grows, we learn that we can trust God—even when the results look disappointing.

More on that in next week’s post!

Michael serves as co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado.


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