Monthly Archives: October 2011

Jesus is the Anti-Zombie and The Zombie Commandments

By Brendan Scott

Have you ever had the fear that the living dead will come breaking through your door?  I’m talking about rotten decaying humans that hunger for your brains.

Many ancient societies held to the fear that the dead would come back to life and run rampant across the land.  Why else do we still bolt our coffins shut from the inside or why did the ancient Irish place a stone in the mouths of the dead.  Both are precautions against the dead returning to life; one locks the dead in a coffin and the other fills the mouth so that the dead is prevented from eating.

There are many other examples that prove that our world lives in fear of the death and  the dead.  Like the rules of cleanliness in ancient Israel, if a person touched a dead body there were considered unclean.  Maybe they were trying to prevent the spread of diseases or maybe they thought if someone interacted with the dead they would become a Zombie.

The technical definition of a Zombie is any dead body given the semblance of life, but mute and will-less by a supernatural force, usually for some evil purpose like eating brains.  In Harry Potter they are called Inferi and are used by dark wizards to attack the living. Even magical people fear the living dead.  Any Zombie has no will of his or her own, save to consume brains and make more Zombies.

Real Zombies, whether you believe in them or not, exist to suck life and meaning from their prey.  Zombies live, well not really live, with an unquenchable desire to feed.  Much like the American consumer, Zombies are always wanting more and what they leave in their path is death and destruction.

A Zombie’s main desire (If a Zombie has the free will to have his or her own desire) is to turn normal people into Zombies and once you have been turned into a Zombie you are condemned to a living death.  Imagine working in Dilbert’s cubicle for the rest of your life, bent on just amassing more; a “life” doomed to utter meaningless.  Just imagine living your life and your only desire is to eat brains;  human brains at that.

Fortunately Jesus Christ is the Anti-Zombie!  Jesus, who called himself, “The Good Shepherd,” who was willing to die for his, “sheep,”  knew he had to die so that we would be protected from a meaningless life.  In the Gospel of John Jesus says, “I have come that [you] may have life and have it to the full.”  Jesus did not come so that we would live our lives in mediocrity.  No he came to break us away from meaninglessness.  His life gave us a purpose, which I believe is to love and serve one another with a confidence that we are protected from the sting of death.

Jesus died so that “whoever believes in him shall not parish, but have eternal life.”  Anyone can die, but Jesus came back to life.  However, unlike Zombies who are the reanimated dead bent on destruction.  Jesus’ resurrection is, in essence, an act against a meaningless life.

As J.K. Rowling says in Harry Potter and The Deathly Hollows, “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.”  Rowling cleverly pulls this quote from 1st Corinthians chapter 15 verse 26.  She is making the point that death, and in my opinion, meaninglessness are enemies to be destroyed.  And fortunately for all of us Jesus has conquered these enemies.

Paul, the author of 1st Corinthians, believed that Christ’s resurrection was a resurrection to a spiritual life and that death has no sting or power.  That whoever allows Christ to work in their life will be changed in life and through death.  Their body might die, but their soul will live on in Heaven.

So Jesus’s death and resurrection give a meaning to life.  Where Zombies are reanimated to consume, Jesus died and came back to give us the freedom to live.  That is part of the practice of the Communion at church.  Believers take in Jesus’s body and blood and are given a full life; one that is satisfied by Jesus and not material goods.  We, normal humans, who don’t go around eating brains, no longer need to be afraid of Zombies, of meaninglessness, or death, because Jesus died and came back to life for us, so that we could live our lives to the full.

And now the Zombie Commandments: Some of Jesus’ commandments with a Zombie flavoring.

1. The most important commandment is this, “Love the lord your God with all your heart  and with all your soul and all your brain,” mmmmm brains I can’t get enough brains . . . I mean, “mind and with all your strength.

2. Love your neighbor as yourself because his brain tastes as good as yours.

3. You are the salt of the earth, so add extra humans on any brains you might eat.

4. You have heard it said, “Do not commit adultery.”  But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully and does not eat  her brain has already lost out on a chance for a good meal.

5. You have heard it said, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” but I tell you do not resist anyone that wants to eat your brain.

6. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your brain as well.

7. Give to anyone your brain if they ask for it, and do not turn away anyone who utters the phrase, “Must Eat Brain!”

8. You have heard it said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy,” but I tell you to love your enemy and pray for those who try to eat your brains.

9. Thou Shalt covet they neighbors brain.

10. Be a perfect brain eater as your Zombie father is a perfect brain eater.

Happy Halloween!!

Brendan dressed up as The Fantastic Mr. Fox for Halloween so he doesn’t want any candy for Halloween, just your chickens.

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The Spirituality Of Running

by Michael J. Klassen

Over the last two years I’ve run in two marathons. The first marathon, I fractured a bone in my foot midway through the race and hobbled the last 13 miles to the finish line. I wrote about it in this post. The second marathon I nearly collapsed on mile 17—the result of fighting a flu bug the previous 10 days. Marathons accentuate every weakness in our body.

After my near-collapse last June, I felt entirely burnt out on exercise. Seven years of consistent running and weightlifting left me with zero desire to work out. As a result, I did very little to stay in shape over the last four months. Finally, two weeks ago, I re-launched my training regimen.

But about that same time, I discovered a side-effect from my work stoppage: my heart felt a bit harder. I’m not referring to my physical heart, although I’m sure my cardiovascular system needed a tune up. My heart—the center of my emotions, self-awareness, and hidden place with God—seemed a little stiff.

What difference does running make on our heart?

Running and Spirituality In the Bible

Running and spirituality have a great deal in common. First of all, it’s the most prominent sport in the Bible. Paul must have been enamored with running because he referred to it throughout his writings (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Galatians 5:7, 2 Timothy 4:7).

But think about it: training for a long run requires repeated long runs. Leading up to my marathons, I ran for three to four hours at a time. No computer. No cell phone. No television or work to keep me busy. No conversations. No mental stimulation. Just me and my thoughts. While I listened to music during my training, I found myself absorbed in reflection for hours at a time.

What goes through a person’s mind when they don’t have anything to keep it busy? Initially, I spent a great deal of time thinking through the various tasks that I needed to accomplish. Then I processed recent conversations and important relationships. Eventually, I found my mind wandering for hours. Random thoughts. Random memories.

One Saturday morning, my wife and I were lacing up our sneakers when I commented to her that I really didn’t want to run that morning because I was way behind on my sermon preparation for the next day.

“Well then pray about your sermon while you run,” she remarked. Such an idea!

By the time we returned four hours later, my sermon was finished. And the next day, I was quite content with the product.

After that, I committed to being prayerful during my runs. Rather than pray through a mental list of items, I decided to pray about the stray thoughts that wandered into my mind. If I relived a memory from my childhood, I prayed for the people in the story. If I recounted a recent conversation, I prayed for the people involved. And I also began numerous internal conversations with God. My heart felt fully alive.

We know the physical benefits of running. Our cardiovascular system becomes stronger, our brain begins functioning much smoother…we become healthier. But long periods of time without mental stimulation makes room for our hearts to function as they were designed.

Obviously, running isn’t the only option, but engaging in physical activity while connecting with God  brings enormous benefits.

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado. He’s currently enrolled in a calisthenics class that’s working him back into shape.

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Harry Potter, Steve Jobs and the Danger of Magical Thinking

By Eugene C. Scott

I was first introduced to J. K. Rowling and the Harry Potter books by a worried mother in my congregation in Tulsa.

“Pastor, what do you think of these Harry Potter books?” This was not a neutral question.

“I haven’t read them,” I answered.

“They’re full of witches, ghosts, and MAGIC! [emphasis mine] Aren’t they Satanic? The Bible’s against magic. I think they’re dangerous for our kids to read.”

Books are always dangerous, I thought but instead I said, “I’d be glad read them and let you know what I think.” I love reading good fiction.

Is the Magic in Harry Potter Dangerous?

What I discovered were books filled with magic. The first three books especially–brimmed with incredible creativity, engaging stories, themes and questions worthy of books on philosophy and theology, and characters that walked off the page and into my heart.

Magic, the kind that makes things appear and disappear, was secondary. Harry and the gang were witches and used magic in the same way Captain Kirk and his crew were space travelers and used not-yet-real technology. Harry Potter never calls on Satanic evil forces for help. Nor does he simply wave his wand and wish his problems gone. This waving of a wand, or a pill, or a prayer to make problems go away is called magical thinking and it is very dangerous.

Magical Thinking is Dangerous

Magical thinking is a way to use the things around us to hide from problems (like Harry Potter’s “invisibility cloak”), while appearing to do something about them. It is a flawed, shallow coping mechanism and may have contributed to Steve Jobs death. Walter Isaacson, biographer of the late Steve Jobs, said, “I think that he [Jobs] kind of felt that if you ignore something, if you don’t want something to exist, you can have magical thinking. We talked about this a lot.” Jobs spurned traditional medical treatment for nine months after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Jobs is not alone. Most of us practice magical thinking.

Years ago, when my daughter was diagnosed with an eating disorder, I leaped into action, found a counselor, and hoped the problem was solved. Sounds like the right thing to do, doesn’t it? But I was guilty of magical thinking. I had waved the counseling wand at my daughter’s pain. But it did not go away. Not without traveling a long, painful road of discovery and healing, that would include the hardest work I’ve ever done including many counselors, doctors, friends, and episodes of heart wrenching arguments with God that showed me how shallow and hidden I was as a man.

We often think of modern medicine in this way. Just pop a pill and all the pain–the disease–will dissolve. Politics too. If we elect my candidate, she will solve all our problems. Religious people use prayer and God and the Bible this way also. Exercise, diet, education all are used as magic wands to banish our troubles.

Magical thinking is dangerous because it is a way to hide from ourselves, our world, and our problems. And it usually makes them worse.

Harry Potter never does this. In every case, his magic is a tool to help him go deeper into danger, closer to the heart of the problem. And his real solutions to his struggles come from the struggle itself. He engages his mind, his heart, his friends, even his enemies in the battle. He never settles for easy, comfortable, known answers.

My daughter is now a mother of two, healthy, honest, deep. She still struggles. But none of us who went through that with her, hide; we don’t wave God, or counseling, or prayer around like a wand hoping all the pain will disappear.

The magic in Harry Potter is indeed dangerous. Because it is the kind that calls us to face ourselves and our problems. It reminds us there are no magic answers.

Eugene C. Scott is co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church and would like a magic wand that could solve car problems and maybe clear traffic in front of him during rush hour.

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Dancing Con Aguafiestas

By Brendan Scott

Quick, name the best dancer you know.  If Brendan, my name, hasn’t popped up into your head, then you’re crazy.  I know how to cut a rug and then knit it back together again.  I know how to shake a leg and then skimmy.  I’m the real Jimmy.  Oh, you don’t know my name?  What?  You haven’t seen my moves.  You don’t know my skills?  I have around 363 views on my dance video (On Youtube).

Sometimes my life can be a little like my dance moves.  I’ll be having fun, the toast of the party, feeling great, and then suddenly a migraine will twirl in and nock me out.  It seems like at every dance party there is a jealous dancer who tries to outdo me, my migraines always try to do the same.  They are aguafiestas (Spanish for party poopers). The aguafiestas I suffer from are Abdominal Migraines.  They’re rare, but they do exist.

Before I spin my gruesome tale of migraines, let’s grind our way through all of the fun that was had celebrating Stephanie and Fernando’s joint bachelor parties at the lake.  Lake Atitlan is about two hours away from Xela, but that’s as the bird flies.  As the car drives it takes much, much longer.  Especially with all of the tumulos (Guatemalan for speed bump, which in Spanish actually refer to the bumps made by burial mounds).  As we drove through the first town off of the Pan-American Highway, located just off of km 148, Fernando’s car scraped bottom.  The little town of San Marcos or Filepe or Lucas or Mateo (or whatever and I’m not sure how it got sainted) has more speed bumps than miracles.  Anyway, Fernando’s car is a small red Nissan and didn’t have the clearance to climb over these pesky paved speed reducers.  Especially not with five people in the car.  Every 100 feet or so we were forced to evacuate the car in order for Fernando to ease the Nissan over the sizable bump.

three-toed sloth would’ve moved quicker.  We’d start to pick up speed, a blazing 10 miles an hour, and a tumulo would halt us in our way.  So, we’d exit the car as the town’s people stared.  I guess they’d never seen gringos (In Guatemala) practicing the Chinese fire-drill before.  After the 5th speed bump in no less than 25 yards we decided to tell Fernando to drive ahead, leaving us to dance through the cold town.  We passed a church gathering, whose people seemed to be more interested in our dilemma than praying, and several cows who mooed empathetically, knowing what it’s like to walk over all the speed bumps.  The horses and chickens weren’t quite as friendly.  They taunted us with their neighing and clucking.  I was glad to climb back into the safety of that warm Nissan after we’d danced all the way through that little town.

Fortunately dancing through San Juan de los tumulos didn’t bring on a migraine.  Neither did driving down a steep set of switchbacks with near 1,000 foot cliffs on either side of the road.  Halfway down to the lake we had to stop, not for a speed bump, but to cool the brakes off.  If we’d gone any farther the car might have ended under one of the many burial mounds we’d driven over along the way.   As Fernando dumped a gallon or so of water onto the hot tires we danced around like guerrillas in the mist.  I do a great guerrilla dance.   Trust me.

If only the fun had continued into the next day.  Unfortunately, like those fighting guerrillas, the migraine sprung on me like a leaping ballerina by late afternoon the next day.  (If you don’t think ballerina’s are fierce just go watch Black Swan.  That movie was disturbing.)  Anyway, just like Natalie Portman’s character spun from good to bad so did my  trip.

After a relaxing morning in San Pedro, we decided it was time to make our way back to Xela.  Fernando and Stephanie were going to Antigua, so we didn’t have access to the car.   We figured we’d take a chicken buss, sadly the busses stopped running at 11 a.m. and it was now 3.  Our only option was the pay a guy to drive us all the way up to the highway in the back of his truck.  All 11 of us (some had not been as fortunate to sloth through San Juan in the Nissan the night before) jumped in the back of a beat up pick up, and we putted off.  It was already crowded and we had a long assent ahead of us, so we only stopped to pick up a few Guatemalans who only wanted a ride to the next town.

Pueblita after Pueblita we subired.  The old truck climbed smoothly until we stalled out in a little town and were forced to watch a parade of tuc tucs.  It was terrible, those slow tucs took tons of time to trek through town, but it didn’t give me a migraine.  The migraine sprung after the truck stalled on a steep incline.  I had been enjoying a magnificent view of the lake when we passed by our fifth hairpin turn and the truck stopped.  We leapt from the truck like graceful guerrillas (ok the girls were just graceful).  With the lighter load the truck roared to life and sped up the hill.  I can run for miles, but dead sprints really kill me, especially when they are straight up hill.  30 yards in I knew I was done.  Several of my friends easily leapt back into the truck bed, but I couldn’t do it.  As I walked up to where the truck was waiting for me my heart danced madly in my chest (A typical indicator that an unwanted dancing partner was about to force its way next to me).  30 minutes later as we bounced through San Juan de los Tumulos I tossed my lunch out the back of the pick up.  The migraine had set in.

I made it home with out throwing up again, and I can say my weekend was a lot of fun, even though it ended with a migraine, which spun my weekend a direction I didn’t want it to go.  I would have rather written a story about how great of a dancer I am, but I guess you’ll know now that, even though I am an extremely talented dancer, I suffer from migraines.  I am human!  All kidding aside,  I might not be the first person you think of when it comes to dancing, but I guess that doesn’t matter.

What matters is how I respond to the challenges placed in my life.  I have dealt with migraines all of my life and I know I can’t handle them if it weren’t for the friends and family members God has placed in my life.  I know that no matter how hard my migraines hit me, I am not alone.  Life’s a dance and I’m going to keep on grooving, even if a migraine leaps in my way and splashes water all over the party.

Brendan wrote this piece back in late March, but he wanted to share it with his new readers so they can get to know him better.

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Why You Shouldn’t Live A Balanced Life

by Michael J. Klassen

The people from the church in this respectable city in the Roman Empire were good church people. They faithfully contributed money in the offering and attended worship regularly.

Historians tell us the city had been destroyed by an earthquake thirty years earlier and they rebuilt themselves without assistance from Rome—so it was a self-made town.

A self-made church in a self-made town. A sign of God’s favor?

Not quite.

In the book of Revelation, Jesus describes the church in Laodicea with these sobering words: “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17). The people’s needs were met, they were comfortable, but they didn’t realize their deep need of Jesus

The church in Laodicea was respectable—they didn’t get overly dogmatic about their faith. You could say they were a balanced church. “You are neither hot nor cold,” Jesus told them. They weren’t dead; they were committed to Christ…but they weren’t overly fervent about him either.

Of the seven churches in Turkey that Jesus addresses at the beginning of the book of Revelation, Jesus compliments six of them. But to the church of Laodicea, Jesus had nothing positive to say.

Don’t Live In Laodicea

We live in a society that values balance and shuns anything that appears extreme. As a result, most people—including those claiming to follow Christ—want to be characterized as balanced. We don’t want to get too worked up about anything and we don’t want to be seen as extreme in our faith. The church in Laodicea would have fit in well in today’s society.

And here’s what Jesus said about them: “Because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:17).

You’ve probably heard the adage, “The opposite of love isn’t hate; the opposite of love is indifference.” The balanced (aka indifferent) life isn’t necessarily what God had in mind.

Obviously, balance in some areas of our life is important. I need to work on eating balanced meals containing fruits and vegetables. I need to work on getting more sleep at night. And sometimes I work too much.

But when it comes to our faith, God doesn’t want balance. Jesus didn’t call us to live safe, respectable lives. He calls us to sell out to him.

Incidentally, translators have softened Revelation 3:17. “Spit out” is translated literally “vomit.” The Message probably comes closest to the literal translation of Jesus’ words: “You make me want to vomit.”

Balanced People Rarely Make A Difference

In my study of Scripture and the history of the church, God rarely works through balanced people.  But he revels in using imbalanced people who throw caution to the wind and follow Christ irrespective of those around them who feel they are too extreme.

  • Scripture tells us King David danced before the Lord when the ark of the covenant was returned to Israel—much to the dismay of his wife Michal. David enjoyed a long reign as Israel’s greatest king. Michal died childless.
  • John Wycliff was widely criticized for trying to translate the Bible into the language of the common person.
  • Jan Hus was burned at the stake for preaching that Scripture is our sole means of authority for belief.
  • Martin Luther, the instigator of the Protestant Reformation, lived his adult life on the run because he was accused of being extreme.
  • Anabaptist reformers Menno Simons, Michael Sattler, Conrad Grebel risked their lives because the majority believed they were getting a little too radical in their Christian faith.

But most of all, our greatest model, Jesus, was never accused of being balanced.  When he opposed the Pharisees, his disciples pulled him aside and said, “Hey Jesus, did you know you offended them?”  He threw the moneychangers out of the temple. Jesus was killed because he was too radical.

Did you know that the term “Christian” was initially a derogatory expression? It means “little Christ”. The early Christians were considered too extreme in their beliefs about in Jesus.

We cannot truly follow Christ and be balanced at the same time.

All too often the church in America is held captive to political correctness. We seek the respect from those who care nothing about our faith or Christ. We’re more interested in a good reputation in the community.

Jesus, on the other hand, made Himself of no reputation (Philippians 2:7 NKJV). He said in Luke 6:26, “Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.”

Proverbs 11:1 advises us, “A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is His delight” (ESV italics added). Granted, the idea of a false balance pertained to dishonesty in business dealings, but when we tie our definition of truth to the ever wavering weight of national opinion, we give the impression to those around us of a false balance. A false balance is anchored to public opinion, even the opinions of other well-meaning believers.

A true balance is anchored to Scripture.

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and, if true, of infinite importance.  The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.”

Believe me, I’m preaching to myself. But as I look at the spiritual landscape, I know that something needs to change. I don’t want the culture around me to force me into its mold.

So I invite you to join me by refusing to live the balanced life.

Michael serves as co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado. If you liked this blog post, you may want to read Are You A Good Christian?

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No Fear. Just Pain.

By Eugene C. Scott

Not the actual truck

The Nissan truck with the No Fear off-road package sat in the drive. Big knobby tires, six-inch lift package, fancy rims, dual exhaust.“Semper Fi,” said a sticker in the back window. We had driven from Winter Park to Loveland, CO on a fabulous fall morning to look at a used truck for sale. Necessitated by the untimely demise of my old, faithfulPathfinder.

As I climbed out of our car, I put my negotiating face on. It was a cool truck.

We walked across the road and into a wall of pain. A hurt, like a bad dream that won’t let you wake up, hung over the house. The owner of the truck, an ex-Marine with tattoos covering both arms and his neck, came out and shook hands. A big silver cross hung from his neck over his New Orleans Saints football jersey.

We introduced ourselves. He stood at an oblique in the middle of the street a good distance away from the truck.

“It’s a nice truck. You’re selling it so you can refurbish your son’s Mustang?” I said trying to pierce the awkward silence that surrounded him. I had spoken to him on the phone previously.

“Yeah.” His big frame sagged and he seemed to get smaller right there in front of me. He may have even stopped breathing. “It’s what he would have wanted.”

I could see the sorrow etched into his tough face. He didn’t look at the truck.

Long, agonizing seconds later he said, “He died a couple of months ago.”

There it was. The source of the pain.

“I’m sorry.” I touched his elbow. “What happened?”

“He killed himself.” Three words, flat, declarative, harsh, like someone had hit me in the face. He spat the next three words.

“Over a girlfriend.”

There in the middle of the street our worlds became a bubble, no bright blue fall day, no truck, no air. No fear. Just pain.

I turned to him and we talked. I told him as a pastor I had worked with suicidal kids, how tragic it was that those with so much to live for despaired so deeply. He turned toward me, opened his heart just a crack. More pain poured out. Pointing to a house two doors down he said a pastor lived there and he had been spending time with him. “You gotta trust God,” he said.

I nodded. “You can’t walk through this alone.”

I was relieved he had someone of faith to talk to and that God was part of the conversation. I lived several hundred miles–a world–away. My heart ached but I could not be his pastor, his counselor, or even his friend. The silence and the pain swooped back down.

“Can I drive it?” I asked pointing to the big, gray truck.

“Keys are in it.”

My wife, Dee Dee, and I climbed in. It was the kind of truck I had dreamed of in high school. It didn’t so much drive as it ate the road. It didn’t purr but rumbled. But the cab was clean, almost sterile, no signs of anything personal. The on board computer read, “0 miles,” indicating how far we could drive before we ran out of fuel.

Who lets potential buyers drive a truck that may run out of gas? I wondered as we pulled back into his driveway.

“Nice truck. It’s almost out of gas,” I said as I handed him the key.

“I haven’t driven it in a couple of months,” he said. That’s when I began to understand. I had not seen him come close to the truck. It had something to do with his son’s death.

My heart has been broken and I’ve been praying for him and his elderly mother and father and his other son ever since.

Les Avery, senior pastor of St James Presbyterian Church in Littleton, CO, where I served as a youth pastor in the 80s, used to end almost every worship service by saying, “Wrap your arm around yourself or of someone near you because, if you scratch beneath the surface of any life, you’ll find pain.”

It’s a poignant reminder. Sometimes you don’t even need to scratch. It comes gushing out.

Once again, I’ve been reminded to look at the grumpy, harried woman in the post office with kinder eyes. The waiter, the store clerk, the high school kid walking home from school alone.

They all carry pain–at least as deep as my own–if not deeper.

I’m not going to sermonize, tell you to be nice, “Co-exist,” “give peace a chance,” or “tolerate” each other. Bumper sticker philosophy and theology is such ineffective crap.

All of us know how cruel and insensitive and self-centered we are. We all know we shouldn’t be.

Maybe what we don’t as often remember is that God does not have to scratch beneath the surface of our lives to discover the pain. He sees all and knows all. And he weeps. But his tears are not empty.

By the first century AD, the Romans had tortured and crucified nearly 2000 people. Poverty, injustice, hunger, death, disease, and pain few of us know the depth of today racked the world Jesus lived in. So, what did God do? He let his Son be killed on the cruelest torture device yet known and had Jesus experience all the pain known to man.

Think of it. By having Jesus die on a device designed to induce maximum pain, God gave us a way to transform our pain into hope. God not only knows our pain. He redeems it.

The silver cross around that ex-Marine’s neck was not mere jewelry. It was his sign of hope for life, a reminder of how much God loves him and his son. Of how God had indeed wrapped his arms around us in the ultimate act of love.

Eugene C. Scott is co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church. He did not buy the No Fear truck, not because of the tragedy it represented, and certainly not because he was too old or not cool enough for it, but because his wife said it was not very practical.

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To Be (Creative) or Not To Be

Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh

I had a friend who said that “creativity is hiding your sources.” I was instantly scandalized by that comment and later thought as I heard him speak, “This guy sounds a lot like Rob Bell.” Yet, I often think about what he said concerning creativity and wonder if he indeed was on to something.

We use words like original or unique as synonymous with creative. Yet a survey of recent pop culture shows less and less originality. No wonder that the writer of Ecclesiastes wrote thousands of years ago that “there is nothing new under the Sun.” And yet there are those works and those people who instantly strike you as being creative. If there is nothing new under the Sun, if being creative is hiding one’s sources, then what is it about these people that intrigues us so?

The Icebergs by Frederic Edwin Church

I think about the people who have, through their creative output, inspired me, moved me to something beyond the mundane of my everyday existence. These people showed me something truly beautiful and thus showed me something of God, people such as Vincent Van Gogh, Langston Hughes, Frederic Edwin Church, Frederick Buechner, or Cliff Hutchison. They have each produced inspiration work; yet I believe each of these people would say that they created because they had been inspired by those before them.

Yet, from those sources, they found their own voice, did not try to be anybody else but themselves, the only person they truly could be. And that is what is so fascinating about them, that they are unique because there never has been nor ever will be another Langston Hughes or Cliff Hutchison.

While we are undoubtedly the products of those who have gone before us, we draw upon our sources and synthesize them through our own lives, thoughts, and emotions making something truly creative, even unique.

Perhaps we need to rethink what it means to be creative. Does being creative mean being original? I think not. While something can be ‘new’ for a certain group at a certain time, in the grand scheme of things it is not original, only God Himself is original; the sole creator of all things: “all things have been created through Him and for Him.” This is why creativity is so important to us, it is a part of the Imago Dei, the very image of God the defines us as humans just a much as the dirt we were molded from.

We bear the creator’s image by creating. What is promising about this is that having God as our source means we have a limitless pool of inspiration, leaving room for uniqueness, at least as far as humanity is concerned. Being creative does not mean doing something that has never been done before but to stir the imagination, to shock, to inspire, and to heal. Creativity is most assuredly not limited to the arts, but in imitation of God, subject to every area of our lives. The sin is not being unoriginal but being unimaginative, and unproductive.

So was my friend right about hiding one’s sources? Well, maybe in method, but, I would argue, not in intention. All of our creative output must be born in a state of awareness concerning those who have gone before and ultimately seen as a gift from God to be like Him. So, I put the ball in your court: What does it mean be creative as Christians, as Christ-followers, as image-bearers?

Home by Cliff Hutchison

Michael is a student at Denver Seminary. Along with the aformentioned Cliff Hutchison, he will be planting a church in North Little Rock, AR beginning in January. 

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Train Your Brain For Change

by Michael J. Klassen

In the past few years, scientists have made some pretty amazing discoveries about the brain. This in turn, has impacted the way addictions and psychological disorders are being treated by mental health professionals.

Remember the old adage “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”? Well it ain’t necessarily so. The brain is much more adaptable than we once believed.

Here’s how it works. I’ll keep it simple so I won’t bore you—and so I can understand it myself: your brain is composed of billions of cells which connect with one another into neuron superhighways, called neuropathways. Your innate and learned responses follow specific neuropathways in your brain in order to function.

For example, remember how it felt when you first tried to ride a bike? You felt wobbly and, if you’re like me, your bike became a heat-seeking missile hot on the path of the fast-approaching telephone pole. Now THAT was a painful experience! But you needed some time to learn because you didn’t have any neuropathways in your brain that told you how to ride a bike.

To a great extent, addictions are behaviors that follow specific neuropathways in our brains. Even the emotions we feel about certain people and the way we see ourselves follow specific pathways in our brains. You could say that they serve as our default settings.

So how do we change our default settings? We change the way we think. This brings new meaning to Proverbs 23:7, “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he” (NKJV). We become what we think. Studies are now indicating that positive people actually have a greater likelihood of positive outcomes occurring in their lives. All those people who were taping cut-out photos of their head superimposed over cut-outs of finely sculpted bodies from a grocery store magazine were onto something.

Stroke victims are now being trained to imagine themselves using their lifeless limbs—and amazingly enough, those limbs are coming back to life. Their brains just need time to build a new neuropathway.

This also explains why meditating on Scripture can be so beneficial. By meditating on God’s word, we are changed. Read Psalm 119 to discover what the psalmist knew about this.

Obviously, certain limitations prevent us from doing whatever we envision. I’m physically unable to fly. Nor will I ever envision myself into becoming anything more than a bricklayer when it comes to basketball.

But, you can change your feelings toward people. If you have a hard time forgiving someone, begin imagining yourself forgiving that person. If you’re in a dead marriage, envision what your marriage could be. If you’re struggling with an addiction, build a new neuropathway by envisioning yourself as a healthy person. Granted, these are only one of many steps toward healthy lives, but they’re significant steps in the right direction.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Psalm 139:14 (NIV)

If you’d like to read more about this, check out the following websites:

How to rewire your brain
Changing your brain by changing your mind (don’t let the opening photo scare you away!)
Yourbrainonporn.com

Michael serves as co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado. After spraining his brain, he’s now in training for his first mental gymnastics competition. 

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Rejoice! It’s October!

Ever notice how many “officially designated” special days there are on the U.S. calendar? Seriously! If you wanted to, you could celebrate something every day of the year. Though you might be celebrating some very strange things like “Cephalopod Awareness Day” (Octopus Day!) or “World Wetlands Day.”

It’s as if there is some odd contest to see which month can pile up the most (weirdest) special holidays and observances, apparently each month vying for “The Best Month of the Year Award” (BMYA). But no matter how many strange observances those other months compile, there is no contest.

Is December the best month of the year, boasting as it does of Advent and shopping and Christmas? Celebrating the birth of Jesus is a pretty big deal, except Jesus may not have actually been born in December. But one would think that that one holiday would make December pre-eminent. Apparently not because someone saw the need to add, uh hm, “Take It In The Ear Day” (December 8).

January weighs in with its attempt at winning “The Best Month of the Year” with New Year’s Day. Wow! The month that gives us all a fresh start and second chance. Pretty impressive. Except many people spend the day sleeping and hung-over. Maybe that’s why January also sports “National Humiliation Day” (I wish humiliation happened to me only once a year).

February doesn’t come close to best month of the year (despite that my son and grand-daughter were born in February) because it limps onto the stage boasting of Valentines Day (often very similar to Humiliation Day, for guys at least) and Ground Hogs Day. Have you actually seen a ground-hog? They are not much to look at.

March is a good month (both of my daughters were born then). Spring, though muddy and blustery, begins somewhere near this month. But officially March commemorates St Patrick’s Day (which is a dubious holiday because, though St Patrick did some really selfless and amazing things, chasing snakes out of Ireland and drinking green beer were not among them). So someone thought they also needed to dub March “National Noodle Month.” Even many Irish don’t really care.

April claims to be “National Frog Month.” Ten year-old boys must love April. But what self-respecting month begins with a special Day for Fools (no, not my birthday). Enough said.

May marks May Day and is called “National Moving Month.” Sorry but running around a pole naked and packing and hauling boxes aren’t my idea of a good party.

Everybody loves June and the beginning of summer; but June also brags of being “Potty Training Awareness Month” (which may be why my grandson was born in June). Close but no cigar.

July observes Independence Day (in the U.S.) and—lucky, or not, for all those July 4 picnickers—is also “National Baked Beans Month.” What no beer?

August is just hot. Why is this even on the list?

September settles in very close to the top of the BMYA list because my wife’s birthday is September—yes, the whole month. September also celebrates “National Cable TV Month.” If only . . .

November also nestles near number one for Best Month of the Year celebrating Thanksgiving and “International Drum Month” (is this somehow connected with all those leftover Thanksgiving drum sticks?). Tryptophan!

But the obvious winner of the Best Month of the Year Award is . . . “November, drum roll please” . . . OCTOBER!

Mr Bean celebrates October!

You laugh? Consider the following: October celebrates “Free Thought Month” (which gives me permission to freely think October is pre-eminent), “National Liver Awareness,” “Hispanic Heritage,” “Fire Prevention,” “Disability Awareness,” “National Popcorn Popping,” and “Church Library Month” (that’s a biggy).

October also features some of the best contradictory observances: “Go Hog Wild—Eat Country Ham Month” alongside “Hunger Awareness,” “Month of the Dinosaurs” beside “Clergy Appreciation” (maybe that’s not a contradiction), and “National”—get that—NATIONAL!—”Sarcastic Month” combined with “Positive Attitude Month.” And then there’s “Halloween” (which some might consider a blight on a nearly perfect month).

I’m sorry but all other months of the year pale in comparison to October. Fall is in full bloom, Pro and College football compete with baseball’s World Series. And all the best hunting seasons touch October. Plus there are some pretty amazing people who were born in the month of October. I won’t mention any names; just let it be known that October is also “Self-Promotion Month.”

Yes, October wins hands down.

So, what’s all this got to do with life, faith, and all that important, serious stuff? I’m not really sure.

Maybe . . .

  • Humans are incredibly creative and at the same time extremely silly.
  • There are way too many things to prevent, be aware of, and celebrate than is humanly possible.
  • I am just so ebullient about October I had to write something about it.
  • Or looking at the calendar we can all notice, “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad.”

For those lucky ones born in October–The Best Month of the Year–rejoicing and being glad may be easier than for others. Enjoy.

Eugene C. Scott is co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church and has nothing against a really good birthday party.

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How Does A Bronco Fan Mourn Al Davis?

By Brendan Scott

Saturday, as the news broke about the death of Al Davis, the owner of the Oakland Raiders, I was unsure of how to react.  One side of me wanted to smile, this was the side that hates the Raiders and wants to see misery in my opponent’s eyes, and the other side was sad.  Sad because Al Davis had run his team into the ground and well, I wanted the Raiders to remain terrible.  Now, the pessimist in me believes his departure from the Raiders might make the team I hate a more competitive franchise.  The Raiders have been an inept franchise for a decade, but they haven’t always been that way.

For a long time the Raiders were winners, committed to excellence.

Al Davis cared for nothing more than winning.  And I, like all Bronco fans, cared nothing for him and am pained by the above video, but I guess he did win some games.  According to Hall of Fame coach Don Shula, Davis was devious, but would have taken it as a complement to be described as such.  It is fair to say that hate him or love him (he does have a family) he was a driven man who helped shape the game of football.

He made the phrase, “Just win, Baby,” famous.  But growing up as a Denver Bronco fan, I just wanted him to lose.  For the last decade, if not a little more, that’s all the Raiders have been doing.  And as bad as the Broncos have been for the last five years, it has been comforting to know that the Raiders have been worse, except when they beat my team.

Al Davis may have lived his life by his “Just win, Baby,” motto, even while his team was losing, but is life about winning?  Football is just a game.  Don’t get me wrong, I love sports.  I’m very competitive and I believe if it is your job to play a game, you should do your best, but maybe there’s more to life than winning or losing.

I wonder if Davis defined his life by the wins and loses his team acquired on the field.  I did not know him so I can’t guess if he lived for more than wins on the field.  As a Bronco fan, competitively I hope he didn’t.  That way he lived his last ten years in misery.  But that’s just the Broncos fan in me, maybe I need to let God work on that area of my life.

But as a Christian, I hope he did live for something more than just wins.  While, I admire his desire to win because I believe God wants us to give everything we do our all, I don’t believe life is just about winning.

What is life about then?

What if life was about losing?  About giving instead of taking.

Matthew 5 reads like a list of objectives for weirdos.  It is counter culture to the max.  I mean, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” come on, who lives like that.  Or how about, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called sons of God.”  That doesn’t sound very competitive.  You’re just going to get run over if you live like that.  Or what about, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  It’s like Jesus is telling people to be losers.  Or is he just saying, be different and you’ll be noticed for what really matters.

Jesus wants people to stand out, which is why he says, “You are the salt of the earth . . . You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden.”  So if you are living like Jesus you are going to be noticed.  You are going to be different and like salt you are going to add a flavor to whatever you shake it into.  Did you know salt enhances the natural flavor of any food it’s added too?  Maybe that’s what life’s about, enhancing the lives of the people we come into contact with.

What about “Just win, Baby”?  That mentality seems to breed the eye for an eye mentality.  If someone punches you, punch back, ’cause you just got to win.  But Jesus says something different.  He says, “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.  And if someone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your jacket also.  If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you . . . Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Fans, Jesus wants us to lose.  To give more than what is asked from us.  To love the Raiders?  To pray for Al Davis and the Raider nation as they grieve their owner’s death.

Jesus commands us, and this isn’t just a command he is giving to Christians, this is for everyone out there, even Raiders and their fans, to love.  Jesus says in Matthew 12 vrs 29-31, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.  The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no greater commandment than these.”

Ok Bronco fans, this is what our head coach is saying, “Love God and give him your all.  Next love your opponents, even the Raiders, just as much as you love your Broncos.”

What is love though?

Love is patient, love is kind, love does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always preservers.  Love never fails.

Jesus wants me, a Bronco fan, to let go of all the hate I have for the Raiders.  So what if Al Davis never payed my beloved former coach, Mike Shanahan.  Life isn’t about money and I am sure Mike Shanahan has enough money and during his time with the Broncos he sure got the wins against the Raiders, as well as two Super Bowl wins for my team.  I think if I am to mourn Al Davis, I have to be different.

So how does a Bronco fan mourn Al Davis?  First, I stop trying to win at all costs (This is going to be difficult for me, ’cause I’ve been known to wish injuries on my least favorite players).  And Secondly, I need to look at the bigger picture of life.  Football isn’t just a fun diversion, remember how it helped restore hope to our nation after September 11th?  Sports are important, but loving our neighbors is more important.

What would Tebow Do?  Tim Tebow, the much debated quarterback for the Broncos, is a Christian who has made a name for himself by standing up for what he believes in.  I believe he would go out and play the game with the talent God gave him, but also respect his opponents with a Christlike love.  But that’s just a guess.  I know Tebow’s not Jesus.

Neither was Al Davis.  He was just a man (a neighbor), but a man created in God’s image.  He may have just wanted to win and maybe that’s what created such a good rivalry between the Broncos and the Raiders, but life is bigger than the victories on the field.  I can mourn Al Davis because he was one of God’s creation.  I can mourn him because as a Christian I am called to be different, to see past the gridiron, and to love even him, my enemy.

Brendan is a Bronco fanatic.  He thinks Tebow is exciting and wants his team to do well.  He is enjoying being back in Colorado where he can watch the Broncos after attending The Neighborhood Church.

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