Monthly Archives: August 2011

God and Grammar, Hurt and Hope: God Ties It All Together

By Eugene C. Scott

God must not have studied grammar under the same crotchety English teachers I did. Over and over, in the beginning chapter of Genesis, God starts sentences with the Hebrew character Waw, or in this context the word and.

I imagine God standing at the blackboard, in a Far Side-like scene, writing one hundred times, “Never begin a sentence with and.”

Too often, however, our rules, of grammar and life, don’t reflect reality.

And so it is with Genesis chapter one. Some may not consider those sentences grammatically correct, but they are theologically correct. Through the repeated use of the conjunction and, we hear the movement of God. Like waves rolling onto the beach, they push us deeper into the reality of God’s continued action in our world. Listen to the rhythm.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth . . . darkness was over the surface of the deep. . . .

And God said, ‘Let there be light. . . .’

And God said, ‘Let the water teem with living creatures. . . .’

And God said, ‘Let the land produce living creatures. . . .’

“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”

Any other conjunction, butthenso, etc., would not deliver the same seamless message. There is darkness and light, water and life. There is life, and it is very good! Life seems to turn on little things, like the use of a small word. There is pain and there is hope. In other words, hope often comes in conjunction with pain, if we let God finish the sentence.

For example, Dee Dee (my wife) and I lost the last of our parents in the last few years. I’m surprised still how often and deeply the hurt resurfaces. I see my mom’s face in every lovely elderly woman. I hear my father-in-law’s laugh the strangest of times. And–God is walking with us through the long grief. Now we often laugh and cry when we think of our parents.

With one little word and one mighty sweep of his hand, God draws the sting out of even death. God is the conjunction between suffering and hope.

Compare these sentences. Your cancer is progressing but treatment may help. Your cancer is progressing and God is with you and God cares and God holds the keys to life and death. Do you hear the rhythm? For me, this insignificant word and makes all the difference in the world. When I read Genesis one, I don’t see a God of the past. I see a God of the continual present, a God who can take one thing and sculpt it into something new. God grabs today and turns it into tomorrow.

I’m not playing semantics here. God can replace fear with faith, ashes with beauty, brokenness with healing, and scars with strength. I have seen God do just that in my life and the lives of those I work with. But we must allow God to connect the dots. Denying or avoiding either side of the equation (pain or hope) confuses our emotions and inside we bind up like fishing line tangled in on itself. Eventually the whole mess must be cut out and we have to start from scratch. Denying the pain builds scar tissue too deep to penetrate. Ignoring hope drowns us in a pool of hopelessness. Letting God connect the two transforms tough moments in our lives into monuments of faith.

God is the author and finisher of our lives. And that makes God the conjunction between suffering and hope, life and death, today and tomorrow, and heaven andearth. God began writing the prose of your life. Even when suffering over comes you, let God finish the story.

And in God’s words it will be good.

Eugene C. Scott is a husband and father and grandfather and co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church and a writer and a bow hunter but not a grammarian.

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Miedo not Mierda

By Brendan Scott

This past year while teaching in Guatemala, I had my creative writing class read through a chapter from Anne Lamott’s book called Bird by Bird.  The chapter, Shitty First Drafts, details the importance of just writing, even if it is bad at first.  My goal was to help my students understand that it is okay to mess up with their writing, and with their lives, because you can always go back and edit.  And while you cannot change your past, Christ’s forgiveness acts as the editor’s pen for our lives.

Anne Lamott believes that writers need not try for perfection because it only leads to failure.  First drafts are meant to be bad.  The first time we do something it might not be that great, and in her words even a little “shitty;” it’s okay, because at least we are getting words down on the page.  And when we type those words onto the page, it shows we are trying and when we try we grow as writers.

I believe that this principle is true in life as well.  Our attempts at life can sometimes be considered grand failures.  When I was young I loved to draw, but no one would consider my drawings art, well maybe Picasso fans.  I expected too much.  I didn’t allow for correction.  When I was a little older, I stopped drawing because I was afraid of the results.

But if we live in fear we cease to live.  If we are too afraid to dream grand dreams, then we live empty lives.  And an empty life is meaningless.  Donald Miller, another one of my favorite authors, believes that a meaningful life is like a good story.  He says, “A character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it is the basic structure of a good story.”  So, I set out a new goal.  I am not going to live my life with fear.  Conflict and strife will happen and when I overcome that antagonism, I will have lived an element of a good story.  But first I cannot be afraid to struggle.

I was telling this to my Spanish teacher during one of my lessons last year at the same time I was teaching this concept to my students.  The rain was pounding on the roof of the little coffee shop we’d met at and she was telling me how she is scared of walking in the rain.  And how she always is afraid for me when I walk at night.  (Now a quick side note here, this was all in Spanish.)  The Spanish word for fear is miedo.  Not to be confused with the Spanish word for shit, which is mierda.  So as she was saying how she was afraid of walking in the rain, I decided to say I don’t live my life with fear.  But I said, “Yo no vivo con mierda.”

Shocked, my Spanish teacher told me to be quiet.  Clueless, I repeated mierda a couple of times thinking I was correctly saying the word for fear.  But the look on her face told me this was not so.  Instantly I realized what I had said, and busted up laughing.  I’d said, I don’t live my life with shit.  Which, might be true, because most of the time I am too scared to mess up.  Yet, I mess up with my Spanish all of the time.  And when I do, I learn.  I now know the difference between miedo and mierda.

What am I getting at here?  I believe I need to start living my life con mierda.  I need to be more willing to mess up.  Like Anne Lamott says, just get the words on paper.  Just say the wrong thing.  ‘Cause with the grace of God, I can set out each new day with a blank page.  I must go out and capture my dreams.  It may be messy at first, but as I go along, my shitty first drafts of a life will turn into pretty damn good stories.  And a meaningful life is filled with good stories.  And good stories have mess ups along the way.

Brendan Scott has spent the last three years teaching in a missionary school in Guatemala where he tried to become fluent in Spanish, but instead bonded with his students in a way that God is hopefully still using him in their lives.  He is now living in Denver and looking for jobs.  He hopes to return to school so that he can pursue his masters of fine arts in creative writing. Read more by Brendan Scott at guatspot.wordpress.com.

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Evidence For God

by Michael J. Klassen

“‘Tis a privilege to live in Colorado.”

Those words are present in every issue of the Denver Post, the daily newspaper in my home city of Denver. Having lived in different parts of the country–all four time zones in fact–I would have to say that I agree. Of course, most people would say the same thing about where they live.

Less than two miles from my home, the Rocky Mountains climb up to the sky. The front range, in fact, hides countless fossils from ages gone by.

Nevertheless, in the busyness of my day, I fail to recognize the beauty of those mountains. I forget to treasure the panoramic vistas that serve as artwork for the 3 million people who call this city home.

“The heavens declare the glory of God,” we read in Psalm 19:1–2. “The skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge” (NIV).

Not only do I fail to recognize the beauty all around me, but far too often I also fail to recognize the master artist who designed the artwork.

At the beginning of this post, I’ve included a video about God and his handiwork. You might be in the middle of a busy day, but I encourage you to watch it. The song and the video footage that accompanies it is moving–and will hopefully remind that someone created the beauty around you.

Enjoy!

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

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Seen Any Burning Bushes Lately?

By Eugene C. Scott

The desert had grown comfortable for Moses. After forty years of caring for Jethro’s sheep, he knew every bush and watering hole as well as he knew the seams and stitches of his old camel-hair robe. When he first arrived in Midian, a fugitive from Egypt and God, wariness was a way of life. He noticed all–the cool slant of the sun in the morning, the twitch of a conies’ ear as he approached an oasis, the heat waves drawing alluring pictures in the midday heat. His nerves jumped at each breath of wind or bleat of sheep. And always he wondered if he had run far enough from Egypt and feared he could never run far enough from God.

Today, however, Moses drowsed as he followed his flock across the desert. His sandals scuffed a rhythm on the hard, dry desert floor. Horeb, the mountain of God, towered in the distance, its long shadow touching the noses of his lead sheep. But Moses noticed not. He had grown comfortable. So it is he walked an hour or more without perceiving the bright light that flickered at the base of Horeb. In the early days Moses would have seen it afar and worried if it were the glint of an enemies’ weapon. Today he shuffled almost upon it before the fire registered. And he only looked up because his flock veered off to the right of the burning bush.

Moses stopped and planted his staff in the dirt between his feet. He sheep continued ontheir well-worn route. Moses rubbed his old eyes and wondered how this bush came to burn. Then slowly he realized the bush was aflame but it did not burn–no crumbling branches, no ember, no ash. “Moses thought, ‘I will go over and see this strange sight–why the bush does not burn up.’” Exodus 3:1-4

Amazing what God resorts to to get our attention. Remember the one time you knew the correct answer to your math teacher’s question and you waved your arm until your biceps muscle seized and your arm plummeted to your desk like a dead weight? And your math teacher never noticed. She called on the kid sleeping and drooling on his desk next to you. I wonder if God feels like that? He burns bushes, throws lightning bolts, and generally makes a nuisance of himself, waving his arms around like an eager fourth grader, and we never notice.

I have a friend who, when he is out in the woods, always sees a deer or elk or coyote or grouse or rabbit or something. I can hike a trail for hours and never see a blessed thing. But then Jay joins me and suddenly the hills are alive. I once asked him if he attracted all these animals by wearing a special scent or failing to shower. He simply smiled and pointed out a six point bull elk watering fifty yards off the trail. Some people are just tuned in.

Jay loves the wilderness so much he becomes a part of it. He has trained himself to notice things most of us ignore. Dead tree branches transfigure into the rack of a buck standing behind a tree, and a flickering, golden oak leaf is really a doe perking her ear at a strange noise. Jay doesn’t miss much.

I’m sure by now you get the point. Most of us are like Moses almost missing God in a burning bush. We might even be worse than Moses and walk right by the durned thing. And the tragedy is God only occasionally speaks through burning bushes. The rest of the time his subtle voice is in the flick of a leaf or the blink of an eye. We rush down the trail of life claiming it leads through a barren wilderness, while God is dropping hints of his love and presence at every turn. Stop, look, listen. God is there.

Hebrews 11:1 reads, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Contrary to popular belief that verse does not advocate blind faith. It commends “the ancients” for hearing God’s voice and seeing his hand in everyday life. They trusted God in the supernatural world because they walked with him in the natural world. We can be certain of what we do not see only if we open our eyes to what God has put before us.

“When the Lord saw that [Moses] had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, ‘Moses! Moses!’

“And Moses said, ‘Here I am.’” But of course God knew where Moses was. Moses was really saying, “I’m here; I’m listening now; speak, my God.”

Life often grows comfortable–we habituate to its wonders. We drive the same route to work. And glaze-eyed notice nothing.  What must God do to get us to say, “I’m here; I’m listening now; speak, my God.”? Usually it’s something that burns like fire.

Eugene often misses God and good things right in front of him. Fortunately God is patient with him and keeps trying. Eugene also co-pastors The Neighborhood Church.

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Big Shoulders

By Michael Gallup

What does it mean to grow up? I often ask myself this question. As I probe my heart and mind, to this one word I keep returning: responsibility. As a child I had little responsibility outside of a few chores that I always undertook begrudgingly. Then, if I didn’t finish unloading the dishwasher, the worse consequence would be a spanking; now, I don’t have anything of which to eat off.

When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait to grow up because I could do whatever I wanted. Little did I realize the freedom I experienced as a kid would never be matched again. This wasn’t a freedom that allowed everything, but a freedom that because I was my parent’s responsibility, I had no need to worry and could simply have fun. While I was limited in the available actions, I was limitless in freedom of spirit. Now that I am experimenting with this whole grown-up thing, I realize that while I have limitless options, my responsibilities limit me. I cannot stay up all night because I have to go to work in the morning. I cannot eat lobster everyday because I have to pay rent at the end of the month.

Being a grown-up is not quite what I imagined.

Responsibilities are great things, they give us passion, purpose, and direction. But they can also deliver worry and stress. All my life my actions only seemingly affected me, but now there are several people at least partially dependent upon me keeping it together and to be honest, I’m not so sure I’m capable.

And yet, I find the courage to get out of bed each day and at least attempt to be productive, to put on a happy face that betrays the heavy-laden condition of my soul. I fear less that I will fail as that I will be found out. And with each day a new role or task or worry or fear adds to the mountain upon my shoulders. How can I hold it all, how can I, of all people, be that strong.

I can’t.

What being a grown-up has taught me is that it is about responsibility but not just my own. I share my load with you and you share yours with me. Each of us was meant to carry each other. And above all, I believe, God is there, not to heap more on us, things like shame and guilt, but to carry our burdens. This is perhaps the hardest thing to not only believe but to live. Somehow I make it up in my mind that I have to be perfect, not let God down. But I am reminded that I do not hold Him up but that He holds me up.

Jesus taught His disciples to pray as such: “Father, Reveal who you are. Set the world right. Keep us alive with three square meals. Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.” This is not a prayer that assumes much at all on behalf of the one praying. We see a simple series of commands, not flowery requests but demands. We go bold before the maker of all things and demand that He make this world right, that He feed us, forgive us and protect us. We will settle for nothing less.

Core to this is that we need Him at every level especially the most basic. Our lives as grown-ups are not about making sure we take care of our responsibilities, but rather coming to a point where we not only know but live by the truth that we are utterly incapable. It is in this moment of emptiness that we are filled. It is in this confession that we find strength. When we release our responsibilities to the only one capable of shouldering them, we finally have that same freedom we knew as children, to be free in our souls. And it is in this freedom that we can truly live, that we can truly shoulder the days ahead.

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Grieving To The Pineapple Rag

by Michael J. Klassen

He didn’t look like an extremely talented musician. Standing about 5’8”, the guy was ripped. From head to toe, muscles bulged in places I didn’t even know existed. I mean, the guy had muscles in his hands that were bigger than my biceps. Shaking his hand felt like I was grabbing on to a baseball bat.

While in high school, Dave reigned as one of the top amateur weight lifters in the country. Funny, he never boasted about it. On occasion, he confided in me that he had won a national weightlifting competition, but it very, very rarely came up in our conversations.

Throughout high school, Dave sang with me in the school choir. And in his spare time, he practiced the piano. Sometimes, after choir rehearsal, he would sit at the keyboard and give us a taste of his immense abilities. I loved watching Dave play because the piano—situated on a portable stand—shook under the power of his talented, brawny hands.

From time to time, our choir director asked different choir members to play instrumental solos for our quarterly concerts. As a violinist, he asked me to play a solo once or twice. And one day, he asked Dave to play a piano solo at our spring concert. Dave said “yes.”

As the concert drew near, Dave gave some of us a taste of what was coming. Apparently he was studying a piece of music that would be considered “ragtime.” If you’re unfamiliar with the genre, it’s a distinctly American style of music. Popular in the early 1900’s, the music is fun, peppy, and known for its syncopated rhythms. Probably the most well-known piece is entitled “The Entertainer,” composed by Scott Joplin.

Dave decided to play a different piece, I think it was the Pineapple Rag. You can watch it being played in the video above.  Anyway, everyone knew Dave was going to play the the Pineapple Rag in our upcoming concert. Even the program the audience would receive included this fact.

The night of our concert, just before we started, Dave mentioned to me that at the last minute he had decided to change his solo. Instead of playing Pineapple Rag, he decided to play Frederic Chopin’s Funeral March. You’ve probably heard it—nearly every movie uses the piece as a backdrop to a funeral. You can watch the video below to reacquaint yourself.

When Dave informed me of the change, I knew this would get interesting.

Although the choir members were supposed to remain backstage during the solo acts, I snuck out and sat in the back of the auditorium. Remember, everyone was expecting to hear the Pineapple Rag…

So Dave walked slowly to the piano. People clapped and Dave bowed. He sat down, adjusting his chair just a bit, and rested his fingers on the keys.

Slowly, he began. The grand piano swayed under the power of his hands. With exquisite sensitivity, Dave painted a musical picture of a funeral procession…while everyone expected a happy-go-lucky ragtime song.

Assuming this was a joke, laughter erupted everywhere—except onstage. Ever the vigilant performer, Dave continued while people waited for Dave to break into a happy song. He never did, and I’m not sure he ever realized the unintended joke.

***

This last week, mourning the passing of a family friend (I blogged about it two weeks ago), I remembered Dave and his funeral march.

Playing a funeral march when everyone is expecting a ragtime song seems so…so hilarious. And playing the Pineapple Rag at a funeral seems so…inappropriate. How can people grieve with such a happy song? But you know what? They can.

The apostle Paul wrote

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 1 Corinthians 15:54–56 (NIV)

Mourning the loss of a loved one isn’t easy. Filling the void the person left behind is impossible.

Yet death doesn’t need to be the finale. Jesus Christ offered us the greatest gift of all when he died on the cross for our sins. And while people grieved while he hung on that tree—as did his father in heaven—I’m sure a happy-go-lucky song was faintly playing in the background. You see, everyone was expecting a funeral march, but God turned it into the Pineapple Rag when Jesus rose from the grave.

Jesus has offered us hope that transcends the grave. And facing overwhelming grief, our faith in Christ never becomes more real and more important. The psalmist wrote:

For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for life; Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. Psalm 30:5 (NKJV italics added)

Believe me, I don’t want to minimize the loss anyone feels over losing a loved one–but we have hope. And someday, we may be grieving to the Pineapple Rag.

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

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Size Matters

By Eugene C. Scott

Size matters. Especially to 12-year-old boys. That’s the year, 1969, I began to believe bigger was better. Every Friday night my best-friend Bruce and I would walk to a mall in our neighborhood to hang out. We always hoped there would be girls there. There usually weren’t and, had there been, we would have been afraid to talk to them anyway. Bored Bruce and I would saunter over to Hodel’s Drug Store to buy a bottle of Dr Pepper each. Since we were scrawny kids, we’d buy the biggest bottle of DP available: 16 oz. Then we’d stroll around acting big and sipping our Dr Peppers.

Not my truck

To us size mattered. Bigger was better, especially where Dr Pepper was concerned. By high school, however, we needed something even bigger. Monster four-wheel drive trucks filled the bill. Most Friday nights you could find a dozen trucks with those huge tires, roll bars, and loud 8 track players parked in front of my house. My mom complained they blocked her view of the mountains.

Does size matter?

According to my high school buddies it does (not to mention the spam email industry that promises a magic pill that can enlarge a body part most high school boys value even over their trucks.).

It seems like many people in the modern world suppose bigger is better.

Though many people complain about them, mega-churches are all the rage. In the new church (church planting) world the going philosophy is, “Launch Large.”

Fast food joints offer to “super-size” already big burgers. Thus our waist lines have grown bigger.

Think too of Walmart, The Home Depot, Google, colleges, public school systems, and–please no–big government.

Since growth is usually good and a sign of life–and bigger often means cheaper prices or more services–most of us haven’t given the bigger is better mantra the scrutiny it needs.

But “big” is not a synonym for “best.”

Think of the trend in education. At one time, students learned one-on-one or in small groups led by one teacher. Then communities formed small schools that could educate all the children there. But as communities grew so did schools. As did the size of the problems. Curricula became uniform, teaching to a median rather than specific needs, leaving many kids treading water in a sea of students. Grades and over-all knowledge dropped. This, in part, developed a mind-set of information dumping rather than mentoring.

Standardized testing ignores diversity. This one-size-fits all mentality lends to a loss of individual achievement. To battle that we award students with a generic “you are special” rather than getting to know them and what they are capable of. We can’t; there are too many of them. In large schools discipline problems have exploded exponentially because there are few real, relational consequences.

Big is not synonymous with bad but is often impersonal, cumbersome, unaccountable, one-size (BIG!) fits all.

Big churches have more money for mission and programs. It’s just that they often lose touch with their people. Likewise big businesses offer better deals but few personal services.

Still big has a dangerous down side. Think of the internet. Its main flaw is its offer of anonymity and lack of accountability. But the internet is not evil. Just the aloneness and distance it fosters. Humans were created to be connected. Big strains or destroys that.

I know I sound idealistic and unrealistic. Maybe so. But I remember the problems my friends in high school and I had with those huge trucks. We each owned one (you were not cool if you didn’t) and all drove alone to the same hangouts. Soon we fought over who had the biggest and coolest truck and our friendships frayed. Then OPEC declared an oil embargo and gas prices shot through the roof. After that we all walked together down to the local park and talked and hung out. Life was good.

Whatever you think, I believe the distance this focus on big creates between us as humans is insidious and dangerous. It eventually forces us to be less than human, less than we were created to be.

God faced this same problem. God was so big we could not really connect with him. So he poured himself into a tiny baby, and lived a small life where those within several hundred miles could touch him, argue with him, love him and be loved by him.

Does size matter? God thought so.

Eugene is a recovering Dr Pepper addict, could not afford a real monster truck–so was not very cool in high school–and is not very large himself, but doesn’t have small-man syndrome. He also is co-pastor of the intentionally small but really relational The Neighborhood Church.

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Naked Celebrations

by Michael Gallup

“And he was dancing NEKKID!” These words boomed through the sanctuary in that old rock church back in the Ozarks of Arkansas. The fiery Southern Baptist preacher was making sure we did not miss his point. He was telling us of King David’s undignified act of worship, how he lost his clothes as well as his mind at the triumphant return of the Ark of the Lord to Israel. The preacher made sure to emphasize that David was not merely naked but had somehow dipped into that special realm of southern colloquialism and had done got nekkid.

In a moment of ecstasy, David began stripping. Nearby his wife, Michal was watching and blushing. Unable to hide her shame any longer, Michal attacks David’s exhibition. David’s response is classic: “I will become even more undignified than this.” In other words, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

The first time I heard that Pastor back in Arkansas say “nekkid” it sure grabbed my attention. This was not something we were supposed to talk about in church, but I soon learned different. While preaching a series on characters in the Old Testament he found several opportunities to proclaim someone was “nekkid.” To my delight he always yelled the word as if he was scared of it. I still imitate him to this day. But it does seems odd, that we would find so many references to our nudity in this holy book.

The first place we see someone naked is in the Garden of Eden. God gives the first man Adam a wife and the as the ancient Hebrews tell it, “Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” This perfect unity is starkly contrasted with Adam and Eve’s immense sense of shame after their sin. There initial reaction to that first bite is to cover themselves up and to hide their nakedness from God and each other.

The next time we see someone naked is Noah. Yes, that Noah, the one with ark. After the flood waters receded from the face of the earth, Noah celebrates the new life and plants a vineyard. Once the vine produces he celebrates a bit too much and winds up NEKKID and passed out. One of his sons looks on his nakedness while the other two back into Noah’s tent and cover him up. While still hungover, Noah curses his son that looked on his nakedness and blesses his other sons.

Interestingly, both accounts mingle celebration and shame. The same is seen in the story of David and Michal. One celebrates and another shames.

The next time we see a King of Israel NEKKID is in the Son of David himself, Jesus. He is hanging on a cross, exposed and dieing. The onlookers much like Noah’s son and Michal hurls shameful insults at the undignified king. And yet, just as sin entered the world exposing man’s shame, in shame an exposed man removed sin from the world. And in an act of worship before the Lord, Jesus fulfills David’s promise so long ago to become more undignified but also to be held in honor.

Perhaps the only time that old preacher didn’t yell nekkid was when he was telling this same story of Jesus’ victorious death. In fact, he said the word embarrassed, head-down, quiet. I imagine that he, like me, felt the shame of our Lord exposed before us, felt the shame of being somehow responsible and felt the shame of being the very one in the crowd hurling insults. But in that very shame we find a reason to celebrate, the Lord is exposed just as we are exposed and, praise God, we will be robed in dignity and white just as our savior is robed.

And perhaps we can join Jesus and David and lose our minds before a God who has chosen us despite all our shame.

 Michael is a student at Denver Seminary. You can read his blog, A Sprig of Hope, by clicking here.

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How Big Is Your God?

by Michael J. Klassen

How big is your God?

The great prophet Elisha lay on his bed, about to die. Jehoash, the king of Israel knelt beside him, terrified of losing his only connection to God.

“The chariots and horsemen of Israel,” the king pleaded. Jehoash relied on Elisha to hear from God—and give him advice regarding their ongoing battles (hence the reference to “the chariots and horsemen”) with the ancient country of Aram. Without Elisha, Jehoash felt helpless in his struggle to prevent Israel from being annihilated by this ever-growing power which eventually became Syria.

“Get a bow and some arrows,” Elisha whispered,

Jehoash ran to his quiver sitting in the doorway and returned to his mentor.

“Take the bow in your hands,” Elisha continued. Jehoash obeyed, then Elisha placed his hands on the king’s.

“Open the window and shoot.” Jehoash complied.

The the great prophet fixed his steely eyes on the king. “The arrows in your hands are full of the Lord’s victory over Aram. Now take the arrows and strike the ground.”

Jehoash placed the arrows in one hand and hammered them into the dirt floor three times.

“What have you done??” Elisha asked, raising his voice. “If you had struck the ground five or six times, you would have completely conquered your enemy. But now you will only defeat them in battle three times.”

Jehoash soon departed, never to see the man of God again.

Whenever I read this passage in 2 Kings 13, my initial reaction to the king is, “You nincompoop!! Why didn’t you strike the ground more times with the arrows? If I were in your sandals, I would have done it a hundred times!”

We don’t know why Jehoash responded like he did, but I wonder if he doubted his ability to rally the troops for long, once Elisha passed away. Or, perhaps something happened earlier in his life when he felt that God had let him down, so he grew weary of venturing out and taking risks

Regardless, the king proved that he not only suffered from a lack of vision, but he also suffered from “small God syndrome.”

How big is your God?

Like Jehoash, many of us suffer from the same malady. For some reason, Jehoash was unable to believe that God would give him the victory over his enemies.

What doubts do you struggle with in regard to God’s involvement in your life?

Repeatedly in Scripture we see God intervening in his creation. Paul writes that God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20).

God is able. He can do anything. Obviously, our job isn’t to manipulate him into fitting into our plans. But God is able.

Donald McCullough, in his book The Trivialization of God: The Dangerous Illusion of a Manageable Deity writes:

The worst sin of the church at the end of the twentieth century has been the trivialization of God…We prefer the illusion of the safer deity and so we have pared God down to more manageable proportions.  Our era has no exclusive claim to the trivialization of God.  This has always been the temptation and the failure for the people of God.  Pagan gods have caused less trouble than the tendency to re-fashion God into a more congenial, serviceable god.

Our tendency is to place God in a neat and tidy, serviceable, easy-to-manage box. Within that box we place our expectations of him.

Let’s look for a moment at the different sizes of boxes we place God in:

The Small Box

People in this category can be heard to say things like:

“God exists, but he doesn’t care about the details of my life. He’s just too busy.”

“My marriage will never change.”

“I’m unable to change.”

This is a pretty manageable box. It’s pretty safe because we place few if any  expectations on God. That way he doesn’t let us down.

The Medium-size Box

People in this category may claim:

 “God interacts with my life in small ways. He can give me patience or strength on occasion, but to be honest, I can’t believe he will ever heal me of my rheumatoid arthritis.”

“I don’t know how God could ever forgive me of my little discretion from a few years ago.”

“God can only speak to me through people I love and respect.”

The Big Box

People in this category say or think things like this:

“God can use anyone or anything to speak to me.”

“God is good even when I don’t understand.”

“God can forgive any sin.”

While these statements reflect few if any limits on God, the fact is, all of us place the eternal, infinite God in a box—either consciously or subconsciously.

What if God really was  greater than our minds could conceive? What if God really orchestrates world events with the minute details of our lives? What if he works all things—all things!—together for good to those who love him?

He does!

Like Jehoash, God has placed the arrows of  our hopes and dreams in our hands and asks us to strike the ground of unbelief.

This morning, let’s let God out of His box—as if one could actually contain him. Let’s strike the ground multiple times knowing that nothing can stop our great God.

Conversation Starter

What boxes do you tend to place God in?

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

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Harry Potter and the Church Part II

By Eugene C. Scott

It’s true, like the old bumper sticker said, that “God Doesn’t Make Junk.” But after 50 plus years of watching the people around me and daily looking in the mirror, it’s plain God certainly created his share of peculiar, screwy, and eccentric people.

I think that’s one of the reasons I liked J. K Rowling’s main setting for the Harry Potter stories, “Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.” I felt right at home. Rowling peopled and staffed her school with bizarre and broken people.

Outwardly handsome and cool but secretly unsure of himself, Gilderoy Lockhart, one of the many Defense Against the Dark Arts professors, was a fraud.

And let’s not forget half-giant game keeper and failed wizard Hagrid or the sadistic janitor Argus Filch.

Many of the students too are screwy. Luna Lovegood is loony, marching to a drum that may not even exist. Even the trio of Harry, Hermione and Ron are a bit odd.

These people are largely dismissed by the “main stream” wizarding community but not by their Head Master equally strange Albus Dumbledore.

In this Hogwarts reminds me of the church. After 30 some years involvement in the church, it occurs to me God too has peopled his community with peculiar, screwy, unconventional and downright broken people, myself not being the exception.

Luna Lovegood would not have been friendless in most churches I’ve served.

Dr. Bob was a retired PhD in one church I pastored who truly believed he had evidence of extraterrestrials having come to earth. During a Sunday school class I taught, a man asked to do an announcement advocating adopting orphaned baby Chinese girls. He proceeded to put on a Chinese Queue and sing the Elvis song “My Little Teddy Bear.”

I won’t name the broken, bleeding, angry, confused and disillusioned.

Rowling lends humor to her increasingly dark stories through fleshing out these eccentric characters. God, however, seems to attract them. As popular as Jesus is today, he hung out with a pretty unpopular, scraggly group back in the First Century.

I feel at home, just like when I read Harry Potter, then when I read of these early peculiar, broken students in Christ’s school of life, or look around me in today’s church. You’ve met them too–or are one.

The wonderful thing is God created such eccentrics and loves us despite our brokenness and he wants them/us to people his spiritual community called the church.

This is where I find the pervasive philosophy in the modern church focusing on bright-shiny people false. Years ago I had a college professor who taught that because we were followers of Christ, we should be the best of the best, with the whitest smiles, nicest clothes, best grades. “God,” he said quoting the bumper sticker, “doesn’t make junk.” I bought it until I looked in the Bible or in the mirror again.

Not that I equate, as he seemed to, offbeat, broken people with junk. God made no one expendable. Jesus died for every Lockhart and Lovegood among us.

But, somehow, despite the church’s ability to be filled with outcasts and Jesus’ willingness to embrace them, this is not the demographic the church focuses on nor the image we portray. To our shame.

When was the last time you saw a pastor preach or teach from a wheel chair? Or have any kind of visible disability? I recently attended a huge church planter’s conference where all of the speakers I heard were cool looking and pastored mega-churches. There was not a halting, unsure Harry Potter among them.

Or closer to home, when was the last time you shied away from the Luna Lovegood or Gilderoy Lockhart in your life or church?

You see, what I believe Rowling knows is that we’re all Lovegoods and Lockharts. We just don’t want anyone else to know it. So, we think surrounding ourselves with the cool and the smart and the successful will make it so for us too. What we often don’t see is that they too are not really bright-shiny either.

But God knows our fears and failures and forgives them. God knows too our eccentricities and revels in them.

This is where Hogwarts reminds me more of the church than the church does sometimes.

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