Monthly Archives: April 2012

What Does The Cross Mean To You?

The journey to the top of Calvary must have been difficult.  Jesus was exhausted as he carried the weapon of his demise all the way up Calvary.  He’d been beaten.  He’d been mocked.  Yet he endured the pain of that brutal cross.

For me.  For you.  For the sins of the world.

Since the day Jesus was nailed to the cross, it has become more than a tool for execution.  For me it is a reminder of forgiveness, how much I’m loved, and the tool used to redeem my brokenness.  To others the cross is just art, something to look at.  But as you can see from the pictures I took during my recent trip to Guatemala, even when the cross is represented artistically, it can still mean something.

Earlier this month we celebrated Christ’s death on the cross.  I posted these pictures and asked my followers what the cross means to them.



A reason to love others.

But then one of my friends said this, “it’s something I don’t like.  I gets in the way of everything I want to do.”

I agree with him.  The cross is beautiful and it sets us free from our sins, but it also messes up our lives.  Christ made the ultimate sacrifice for us and so how can we not sacrifice when Christ asks us to?

So, what does the cross mean to you?  And a little deeper, what do you think Christ is asking of you?

I hope everyone posting this almost a month after easter isn’t too late.  But then, I guess, the cross is always relevant.


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Searching For The Authentic Jesus

“I have far more experience than many others that sought the office of Vice President in the country,” Dan Quayle claimed before a panel of debate moderators and a television audience of millions. “I have as much experience in the congress as Jack [John] Kennedy did when he sought the presidency.”

In 1988, George H.W. Bush was running for president of the United States against Michael Dukakis. His vice presidential candidate Dan Quayle was participating in a debate against Lloyd Bentsen, Dukakis’ running mate.

“Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy,” Bentsen replied. “Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy…”

As the crowd cheered, Quayle tried to regain his composure. “That was really uncalled for, Senator,” he complained.

Knowing he had just won the debate, Bentsen moved in to finish the kill. “You’re the one that was making the comparison, Senator, and I’m one who knew him well. And frankly, I think you’re so far, far, from the objectives you choose for your country that I did not think the comparison was well taken.”

That day in Omaha, Nebraska, October 5, 1988, Lloyd Bentsen cemented his name in the annals of great (vice) presidential debates.

That’s Not The Jesus I Know…

Many years earlier, the apostle Peter probably felt a little like Lloyd Bentsen.

Thirty years after Jesus rose from the grave and ascended to heaven, he noticed some troubling developments. Christianity had been growing like wildfire and spreading throughout the Roman Empire. But then the Empire struck back. Under the direction of Emperor Nero, Christian leaders were being killed. The people in their congregations were afraid.

Then teachers appeared—teachers who didn’t even know Jesus, who never heard Jesus teach. They began telling people things Jesus never said, twisting his words, saying Jesus wasn’t a man; he was more like a ghost. They taught that our daily behavior has no bearing on our souls. That Jesus was never going to return. They claimed Jesus told them these things.

I can imagine Peter thinking to himself, I walked with Jesus. I knew him better than anyone. I stood next to him when he healed the man who was born blind. I watched him walk on the water and calm the sea. 

One time he was speaking before a crowd of 5000 hungry people. I told him, “Jesus, you need to dismiss them because they’re really hungry.” But he looked at me and said, “You feed them.” Then a little boy with five loaves and two fishes said, “Here, take this.” I passed out the food and somehow, all 5000 people were fed.

Another time, I joined him on a hike up a mountain when suddenly he looked as if his clothes were on fire. Then Moses and Elijah appeared. But most amazing of all, I heard the voice of God thundering from the skies saying, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

And I did. Nearly everything he said over his three years in ministry, I was standing there right next to Jesus, listening to him. Finally, I watched him die on the cross and miraculously rise from the dead. 

He was a friend of mine—and still is. You’re referring to a different Jesus than the one I know.

If you knew that your days were numbered—Nero wanted you dead—what would you do?

You’d set the record straight—which is exactly what Peter did.

What Would Jesus Say?

Over the next few Fridays, we’re going to explore Peter’s response to a group of people who claimed to know Jesus, but didn’t. I think you’ll agree with me that his written response is very timely, both then and today. The document I’m referring to is his second epistle, which appears in the Bible as 2 Peter.

But I want to begin our discussion with this:

Every month or two it seems, a new documentary is released about the life of Jesus. The History Channel seems to spit them out right and left. They look at Jesus’ life from different angles, taking into account the cultural milieu, history, and other sociological elements. News websites like offer “new” perspectives on the life of Jesus and what the Bible really says. When I watch them, something usually seems amiss. It doesn’t ring true with the Jesus I know. It doesn’t ring true with the people who knew him best.

If you want to get inside someone, but you can’t meet personally with him, you look to see what people who knew him said. People who were his closest friends.

We know that Peter, James, and John were Jesus’ closest friends. As I’ve already mentioned, Peter wrote two epistles, but you may not know that most theologians attribute the gospel of Mark to him as well. Papias, the earliest recorded church historian, wrote that the gospel of Mark is based on Peter’s preaching.

John, the second man in Jesus’ inner circle, wrote the gospel of John, as well as three epistles—1, 2, and 3 John.

James, the third man in Jesus’ inner circle, didn’t have enough time to write anything because he was martyred by King Herod about 10 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection (see Acts 12:2).

Interestingly enough, you could call the gospel of Luke “Mary’s gospel.” Luke, ever the thorough historian, likely relied on Jesus’ mother Mary for details in his account. Twice in his gospel he says that “Mary treasured theses things in her heart” (Luke 2:19,51). Why did she “treasure” them? To ensure that people knew the real Jesus.

Finally, a man by the name of “James” wrote an epistle about Jesus. While he wasn’t a member of Jesus’ inner circle, most historians believe he was the oldest of Jesus’ younger brothers (he is listed first in the order of his siblings in Matthew 13:15). He later became the leader of the Jerusalem council (see Acts 15).

Why is all of this important? Because if you want to know the real Jesus, the authentic Jesus, you need to know what his closest friends said about him.

Even in the early church, false teachers were offering a “different gospel” than what Jesus proclaimed (2 Corinthians 11:4). Jesus’ family and closest friends sought to correct it.

“I knew Jesus when he was here on earth—and that’s not the Jesus I know.”

At a time when “Christian” leaders are attempting tot contemporize Jesus and his teachings, this study is very timely for all of us.

I looked forward to exploring the book of 2 Peter with you in the coming weeks.

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. Since 1999, he has worked on over 30 study Bibles as a contributing writer or theological reviewer.


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What if Every Day Was Earth Day? Heaven on Earth Day?

By Eugene C. Scott

I live in Colorado. I’m not bragging. Just sayin’.

19th Century Denver entrepreneur Frederick Bonfils once crowed, “‘Tis a privilege to live in Colorado.” John Denver called Colorado home, writing lots of cool songs about the mountains. Not many other states can claim that. Take Oklahoma for example.

“Visit Colorado for the skiing; move here for the summers,” they say, because we have four distinct seasons. Just when you’re getting tired of 90 degree days, a crisp fall breeze rolls in and changes all the aspens to gold. Then comes hunting season followed by ski season.

Even so, Colorado is not perfect. We don’t have as many bugs as, say, Illinois. And the mountains sometimes block your view. Spring is muddy. And winter is horrible. Like Minnesota with tons of snow (wink, wink, wink).

Never-the-less, many people consider Colorado heaven on earth. I tend to agree, though not literally, of course. But I’m biased. I was born here.

Heaven on Earth Day

I apologize for gloating. It started yesterday on Earth Day, April 22. About 3:30pm my wife Dee Dee, my son, Brendan, and I took a four mile hike into the foothills west of our house. It was a spectacular day, 80 degrees, with a topless blue sky, small white clouds crowning the mountains, the tips of the aspens turning chartreuse, and the earthy smell of being outside and away from man-made contrivances.

Climbing the rocky trail I was in awe. “God is an artist, a craftsman, a dreamer beyond compare,” I thought. “What if every day were Earth Day, heaven on earth day?”

What if we really believed that God created this place and in so creating gave it an inherent worth and beauty? What if, like Jesus, we believed “the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

We might better care for it. Admire, love, nurture, steward it.

Some fail to see heaven on earth

Those of a spiritual mind-set have struggled to grasp the God-given worth and beauty of the material world, however. Christians especially have had too little regard for the material, while dreaming of a celestial place called heaven. This dualism has skewed their view of their environment. They become “so heavenly minded they’re no earthly good.” They fail to see heaven on earth.

“This place is not our home,” many of fine-tuned spirituality say while lusting after pearly gates. C.S. Lewis compared our time here on earth to a stay in a fabulous hotel. No matter how nice the hotel, Lewis said, you yearn for home.

Why trash the hotel

Hotel or not, no one but drug crazed rock stars trash the hotel. Yearning for heaven does not mean we ignore God’s command to care for and steward the very place Jesus’ and our own feet touch down.

We are people with two homes

In his book “Christ Plays in 10,000 Places,” Eugene H. Peterson argues that creation is first and foremost about place. This place, not just heaven. “All living is local,” he writes, “this land, this neighborhood, these trees [and here is where radical environmentalists miss the mark] and streets and houses, this work, these people.” (p.72) Like a fine work of art, it all carries the brush stroke of the artist.

God created the very soil we were drawn from. And the earth is not just a platform for our ethereal spiritual selves to briefly settle, like butterflies flitting from flower to flower little recognizing their beauty nor realizing they are a source of life. The material is imbued with spirituality. And spirituality is carried by material reality. They are linked and both are crucial to our lives.

Jesus lived an earthy spirituality

Jesus, who most assuredly lived spiritually, knew this, “Even Solomon in all his splendor was not adorned as these,” Jesus said taking in a hillside of lilies. He was no radical environmentalist. But his was an earthy spirituality: one that saw the touch of his Father in all creation, especially where we least expect it. Not only in flowers, rocks, sunsets, aspen trees, sparkling rivers, but in fishermen, children, prostitutes: people too.

I’m fortunate. I live in a place it’s easy to see heaven on earth. But you do too. Like a room with mirrored walls full of two-year olds, God’s fingerprints are everywhere. We simply have to stoop down to see them.

Where have you seen God’s mark lately?

Eugene C. Scott once yelled at some high school kids who threw trash out their car window. His wife and children were terribly embarrassed and the high schoolers drove off laughing. He is an avid conservationist and loves the outdoors, hunting, fishing, hiking, and people. You can join the Living Spiritually community by clicking here and liking the page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.


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Jesus Won’t Make Your Life Perfect

Do you think you have the perfect life?

Even though we are all masterpieces created by God, we’re broken.  I don’t think anyone can claim that they have the perfect life or that they’ve lived perfectly.  I think the majority of us would find that we have more in common with Aron Ralston than Jesus.

On retreat down in Reu, Guatemala, after I gave my message on being broken, several students came up to me and asked to talk.  So we walked around under a grove a palm trees in the sweltering heat and talked.  They, like me, had made mistakes in their past.  They, like me, had felt stuck because of what they’d done and wished they could erase their mistakes.

Jesus doesn’t erase our mistakes.  He won’t make your life perfect.  And we shouldn’t want him too.

As my students told me what had gone wrong in their lives, I felt God nudging me to tell them about Aron Ralston.  Now, if that name sounds familiar to you it’s because you just read my blog from my 27th birthday about being stuck in Guatemala and how God used that to get me to where he wanted me.  Or you saw the movie 127 Hours.  But then maybe, you read Aron Ralston’s book, 127 Hours: Between A Rock And A Hard Place.

Aron, an avid outdoorsman, found himself trapped by a freak climbing accident.  He’d survived being trapped in an avalanche and stalked by a bear, but when a large boulder dislodged itself and pinned Aron’s arm to the side of Blue John Canyon in Utah, Aron’s life had to change.  After nearly six days of being trapped, Aron cut his arm off to free himself.

If anyone has reason to wish he could go back and have a past mistake taken away, it’s Aron.  He describes in the book how he had the opportunity to take another route through the canyon, which would have kept him in contact with people, but he chose to remain alone. His choice led to the loss of his arm.  That is why I believe more of us relate to Aron than Jesus.

The Bible says that we all have messed up and fallen short of what it takes to make it into heaven.  We’ve all gotten our arms stuck between a rock and the canyon wall, with no real hope of living life the way it was before we were trapped.  I could tell, as I looked into my student’s eyes, that they felt this desire.

But then I shared with them the rest of Aron’s story.

After he’d cut his arm free and recovered in the hospital he wrote, “For all that has happened and the opportunities still developing in my life, I feel blessed.  I was part of a miracle that has touched a great number of people in the world and I wouldn’t trade that for anything, not even to have my hand back.  My accident in the rescue from Blue John Canyon were the most beautiful spiritual experiences of my life, knowing that, were I to travel back in time, I would still say, ‘see you later’ to Megan and Kristi and take off into the lower slot by myself,” (Ralston, pg 342).  Because Aron cut his arm off so that he could live, he inspired other people to fight to live.

Aron understands that God uses our pasts to help others.  He gave Aron a greater story, one not just about hiking and extreme sports, but about what it means to live and be connected to God’s greater story.

This is Redemption.  Aron is still missing his arm, it hasn’t grown back and he still has the painful memory of the time inside the canyon.

Our mistakes may seem simple when we place them next to Aron’s.  But that doesn’t mean they don’t matter to God.  I was truly saddened as my students told me what had happened in their lives over the last year.  But, if we let God, He will redeem or pasts, He wont make our lives perfect, but He will take what happened and use it to connect us to His greater purpose.

Redemption uses our imperfections.

Now, if you have been following my blog, you know that I have been talking about King David.  After committing adultery and then murdering to try to cover up his mistake, he realized he needed to ask God to renew him and purify his heart.  Because David opened his heart back up to God and asked Him to redeem his life, David’s story doesn’t end with his mistake.  David’s story becomes part of God’s greater story, the story of Jesus.

If you look at Jesus’s family tree, its roots lead back to David and his mistake.  God doesn’t sweep away our past, but he does use it, if we let him, to make something beautiful.

Jesus didn’t come to bring us peace or to make our lives perfect.  He came and died on the cross to pay for our mistakes.  And then he rose from the dead to mess up our lives.  The truth of the matter, that Jesus is alive, forces us to live differently.  It connects us to his story, and when we are part of his story our lives start to change.  We start to have a greater purpose.

As I sat there talking with my students, my hope was that they would start to let Jesus redeem their mistakes.  That they would realize the power for the resurrection, its ability to give them a new story.  A story with imperfections, with pain, and with hard times, but one that is far more adventurous than anything they could’ve tried to live before.

As we finished retreat and I said goodbye to some of my favorite people in the entire world, I hoped that God would connect them to a their true adventure.  Like in Hugo, where at the end of the movie, each character finds their purpose because they have let their past be redeemed and have been connected to something greater than themselves.  I know once we all start living in the reality of the resurrection our lives will truly become an adventure.

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A Playhouse Called Fear

What would your life be like if you had no fear?

I asked myself that question a few years ago and discovered that a wound from my childhood had affected me most of my life. For years, I thought anger was my central issue, but as I began to peel back the layers, I discovered that at the core, it went much deeper.

When I was two or three years old, our family lived in a small town in rural Kansas. The house across the street from us had a beautiful playhouse in the backyard.

One day, I was playing with the neighbor kids in the backyard across the street. Because I was the youngest one in the pack, I was always a step or two slower than everyone else. Well, the other kids huddled in a circle for a moment and then one of them said, “Let’s go play in the playhouse!” Everyone else ran inside and I followed behind.

After entering the playhouse, all of the kids ran out the entryway and slammed the door shut. Then I heard someone lock the door on the outside.

I tried to open the door but it was fastened shut.

I didn’t know what to do.

Then I looked to my left and saw a Mickey Mouse phone attached to the wall. I picked up the phone and cried out to Mickey to save me. Unfortunately, Mickey didn’t pick up.

Suddenly, I was overwhelmed with panic. What if I never get out of here? I thought. I felt so out of control. Then something happened inside me that I distinctly remember to this day: like a pilot light from a furnace, my anger was lit.

Obviously, I was eventually rescued, but the damage was already done.

From that point on, every time I felt like I was being controlled, that internal flame roared to life and manifested itself as anger. As a child, when kids made fun of my new haircut and I couldn’t make them stop, my anger burned out of control. For years, I felt like a volcano, the red-hot lava simmering below the surface, building pressure until it released itself on any unsuspecting person nearby. Usually, my wife and oldest daughter caught the overflow.

Finally, I came face-to-face with my anger issue. When confronted with my anger addiction I decided to bring it to God.

He led me to a story from Mark 4:35-41. One evening, Jesus invited his disciples to join him in a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee. Midway across the lake, a furious storm struck the boat, nearly capsizing it. Jesus, however, was fast asleep in the stern.

Imagine going out in a boat, in the middle of the lake, in the middle of the night. No outboard motor—only sails and oars. No navigational equipment, not even a flashlight.

If one of those storms should hit, how would you feel?

The disciples shook Jesus awake. “Jesus. Jesus! Teacher, don’t you care that we’re about to drown?”

Then Jesus stood up and calmly said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” The wind immediately died down and it became completely calm.  Jesus looked at them and said, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

Astonished by what they had just seen, they asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

Studying this passage, I realized that Jesus is in control. Even when the waves are crashing into me, even when I feel controlled by others, Jesus is still in control—and I have nothing to fear.

I wish I could say it happened in an instant, but over time, the raging storm inside me began to subside. I didn’t need to be afraid. Jesus is in control.

You may wrestle with an assortment of fears:

  • Fear of the unknown
  • Fear of being known, of people seeing the real you
  • Fear of being alone
  • Fear of being wrong
  • Fear of rejection
  • Fear of not being successful which is different than the fear of being unsuccessful
  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of being average
  • Fear of unemployment
  • Fear of not being able to support your family
  • Fear of dying

Fear is such a powerful emotion that it can take godlike control over our lives, affecting our relationships, the way we see ourselves, the way we make decisions, the way we see God.

Experience poverty growing up and you could respond by becoming a workaholic so that you never have to go without again. Even if it means working a job you hate, a job that kills your heart. The fear of poverty.

Fear of being alone can drive you into the arms of a person who doesn’t love you, who may be abusive, but is willing to provide a minimal amount of companionship.

We can lift up our voices in praise to Jesus on Palm Sunday and by the next Friday, fear can drive us to crucify him on a cross.

We think that control brings peace, but it actually works in the opposite direction of peace. In Isaiah 26:3, we read, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (italics added).

Trust doesn’t mean taking control, it means giving up control.

You can believe in your head that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, ultimately in control, good, and loving. But in your heart, you just don’t trust him.

The best answer I can give is the cross: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Romans 8:32 (ESV)

If God loves us enough to give us his son, then we can trust him.

And you don’t need to live in fear.

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. He’d like to say that he no longer deals with anger and control issues…but then he’d be lying.


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Blue Like Jazz: A Movie Review

By Eugene C. Scott

I wouldn’t voluntarily see a “Christian movie.” It’s not that they are cheesy. That’s a cheap shot. I’ve seen my share of cheesy “non-Christian movies.” Rather, it’s that movies produced by the Christian faith community, which supposedly portray faith, and might produce faith, seldom exhibit faith in God’s ability to communicate through a story well told. This usually makes them lousy stories. And it’s ironic because Jesus fearlessly told stories: one comparing God to an unjust judge.

Today’s Christian movie industry would never do such a thing for fear that some poor sap like me might misunderstand the point. Therefore, Christian movies seldom tell authentic, compelling stories because they are overly concerned with not offending popular Christian orthodoxy, with getting Truth right, and with ensuring that the movie gets people to heaven. For an example of this, read here  for a discussion of whether the character “Penny” from “Blue Like Jazz” is Christian enough.

But I wanted to see “Blue Like Jazz” because I read the book several years ago, and found it refreshing, not your typical pastor-of-mega-church-preaches-sermon-and-turns-it-into-a-book book. Donald Miller is an excellent writer: poetic, funny, serious, irreverent, and honest in his prose. Miller trusted me to get the point instead of impaling me with it. I hoped the movie would follow suit. Plus Christianity Today said, it’s hardly Christian cinema as usual.

So, though I had trouble imagining Miller’s series of “nonreligious thoughts on Christian spirituality” being turned into a complete story, I donned my disguise and trooped off to see “Blue Like Jazz” (I always wear a disguise when going to Christian movies or book stores in case someone recognizes me.  Just kidding, sort of).

Eugene heading for his local Christian bookstore

The movie is the story of a fictional 19 year-old Donald Miller, who begins to feel his Bible-belt is cinched a bit too tight. “Don,” played dryly but authentically by Marshall Allman, has been accepted into a Christian college. The scene depicting his “graduation” at church is as intentionally uncomfortable as any I’ve sat through. Exaggerated but too close to home. Unknown to Don, his estranged–and strange–jazz-loving father enrolls him in uber-liberal Reed College in Portland. He rejects the idea as crazy until his mother inadvertently jerks his magic-carpet faith completely out from under him.

The rest of the film shows Don struggling to figure out who he now is, if he is not some caraciture of a flannel-board Christ. Don’s struggle is real and funny. I have not traveled Don’s path, but I did during the movie and I wanted his conflict and disappointment and loneliness to shape him into the person I read about in the book.

The writing is sharp, bouncing from Seinfeld-like irony to true soul searching. The scene where Don is sitting on a bench, alone, writing in his journal was powerful story-telling. More-so, when a friend from Houston unexpectedly shows up at Reed over Christmas break.

Director Steve Taylor filled Miller’s college life with quirky, troubled, and extremely intelligent fellow travelers. The movie claims the average IQ score at Reed College is a couple above genius. I have to admit, for several reasons, I may not have survived at Reed. It looked to me like flypaper for the world’s wildest and weirdest. But Reed made for a perfect setting for Miller’s journey.

Blue Like Jazz was not “Christian” nor cheesy. I enjoyed it. I laughed, cringed, hoped, and was lost in the characters and the story most of the time.

A couple of exceptions:

The animated car scene where Don drives from Texas to Portland is silly, even cheesy (but not “Christian cheesy”). I found myself taken out of the story then and it took me a few minutes to dive back in. I wish Taylor had spent that valuable screen time letting Allman develop Miller more deeply.

Too bad Taylor didn’t have more money so the cinematography and technical aspects would match the writing and over-all story. Even then it is well done on all levels.

Also, despite Taylor’s success in letting the story speak for itself, there were a couple of scenes that seemed built to communicate information rather than show Don’s struggle. But this was not often.

Over-all, however, “Blue Like Jazz” is a well-told, thoughtful, provocative story about a young man digging below his facade of safe, American consumer-driven religion to see if there is a real, living, breathing God buried there. That story is one, according to sociologist Christian Smith, many in fictional Donald Miller’s age group are living.

It’s a movie to be enjoyed and discussed. What did you think?

Eugene C. Scott is co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church. He tried to sound a lot like an official movie critic in this review because he grew up reading the reviews in TV Guide and it’s always been a dream of his to become a crusty media critic. Besides after ranting about Christian movies and book stores, he might need a back-up career.


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Are You Broken?

God made me into a masterpiece.  And yet, like the broken volcanic rock I’m standing on in this picture, I’m a broken masterpiece.

I’m a broken masterpiece who’s enamored with a kids movie.  When Hugo came out before Christmas I was blown away by its beauty, but as I’ve watched it again and again, I’ve seen the true elements of God’s grace and redemption weave their way through the story.

In the movie, Hugo Cabret, the main character, loves fixing things.  As the story progresses he realizes that everyone around him is broken. Just as Hugo realized that the people around him were inventions who needed fixed, I realized that fact is true to life.  We are all creations who have been broken.

I’ve been writing a lot about my recent mission trip to Guatemala.  During the first part of March 2012 I led a small team down to Xela (Quetzaltenango), Guatemala to help out with a vacation Bible school program and a high school and middle school retreat.

Now, if you have been following my blog you know that the week was quite an adventure.  You also know that you are God’s masterpiece.  You know that God created you for a reason.

But what happens when you mess up.  When you feel broken. Does God just toss us away?  Can we mess up so bad that even God wont take us back?

During the retreat, once we’d made it down to hotter than hell Reu, Guatemala, I asked my students if they knew what the word redemption meant.  We were packed into a small dining hall for games, worship, and a message.  Going along with the theme of creation I asked three boys to create something with Hot Tamales.  First they had to chew them up and then build something artistic.

The game failed.  I’m pretty sure all of the students were bored during the game, which wasn’t how I pictured it.  I’m glad it was just a game.  But then, somehow the games failure fit into my talk.  How often do our lives not go as planned.  If we are inventions we sure tend to break down a lot, and sometimes it’s our own fault.

In my last blog I talked about how God chose a little shepherd to be king of Israel.  David was the smallest in his family, but he had something God desired.  An open heart.  But let me tell you the rest of David’s story.  If he was a man after God’s own heart, he was also horribly broken.  Once David becomes king he stops following God’s plan for him.

If I think I’ve messed up, well at least I haven’t skipped out on God’s job for me so that I could commit adultery.  David did that.  But wait, there’s more.  David finds out he knocked up the woman he slept with, and wait, she’s married.  So, after he tries to pin the baby on her husband, which fails miserably, (as is what happens most of the time when we try to hide our mistakes) David has the man killed.  So, David has gone from a man after God’s own heart, to an adulterer, to a murderer.  I am sure when he woke up the morning before all this happened, he didn’t write on his to do list, sleep with a married woman and then kill her husband.

No.  We never plan on making mistakes.  As I shared this story of David with my students, I wanted them to realize that even great biblical figures mess up. If someone in the Bible screws up royally, then what does that mean for us normal folk?

And so I opened my Bible and shared with them how David responded to  God.  Yes, at first David hid from God, tried to cover up all his wrong doing, but then he does something us normal folk should do.  He admits his wrongs and asks God to redeem him.  In Psalm 51 verse 1-12 David writes:

1 Have mercy on me, O God,

according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
5 Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
6 Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

David was a broken invention.  God set him on a path to be king of Israel and David messes things up.  We are God’s masterpieces, but if you are like me you have messed up.  The first step to redemption is admitting to God how you messed up.

I have found that when I am open with my faults God tends to redeem them. Redemption doesn’t mean erasing all that we did wrong, but fixing what is broken.  Like David said, create in me a pure heart and renew a steadfast spirit within me.  He didn’t say take this all away as if it never happened, he asked for God to fix him.

That is exactly what God did on Easter through Jesus.  He sent Jesus to fix us.  But that can only happen if we admit that we’re broken and need someone to repair us.  If we do, our story will be as meaningful as Hugo’s, probably even more so.  Because when we are living out God’s plan for us our stories turn into grand adventures.

As I finished giving my message I prayed that each of the students would keep their heart open to God and know that, no matter what they’d done or will do, they could never separate themselves from God.

I hope you know that too.  I urge you to join me, and my dad, Eugene Scott, in Living Spiritually.  We have set this year and hopefully our lives to keeping our eyes and our hearts open to God.  It has been an adventure so far and it would be amazing if you joined us.


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Are You Name-Dropping Jesus?

In the late 1960s through the 1970s, Andre Crouch was the king of Gospel music. While racial tensions were high during those turbulent times, Andre traversed the boundaries with ease. Musicians who either worked with Crouch or performed with him included Elvis Presley, Billy Preston, Stevie Wonder, Whitney Houston, and Michael Jackson.

In the mid-1980s, a woman at my church announced she was engaged to Andre. She reserved our church building, asked my senior pastor to officiate, sent out invitations, and excitedly shopped for dresses with her bridesmaids. Because Andre was such a high profile personality with a busy schedule, she told the pastor that he would show up in time for the ceremony.

On the day of the wedding, family and friends packed the church sanctuary, anticipating a glorious event. The bridesmaids doted on the cheery bride.

And they waited for Andre to arrive.

They waited and waited while the congregation grew increasingly agitated and concerned.

Finally, my senior pastor met with the bride privately.

“Do you have any idea where Andre might be?”

“I have no idea,” she responded. “That’s just not like him.”

Unfortunately, the bride didn’t have Andre’s phone number with her, so the pastor decided to do a little investigative work on his own. Finally, he was able to locate his phone number (this pastor was very well-connected!). So he dialed the number.


“Yes, is this Andre Crouch?”

“Yes it is.”

“This is Charles Blair and I pastor a church in Denver, Colorado. A woman in my congregation asked me to perform her wedding ceremony this afternoon, and you’re the man she’s supposed to be marrying. Do you know [woman’s name]?”

“Pastor,” Andre replied. “I don’t know who you’re talking about. I don’t know that woman nor have I ever heard of her in my life.”

The woman, with obvious mental health issues, was all dressed up with no place to go.

That true story has haunted me for nearly thirty years. The troubled woman was name-dropping a person who didn’t know her. She talked a good game. She looked the part. But in the end, Andre Crouch never knew her.

Are You Name-Dropping Jesus?

In Matthew 7, Jesus describes the day of judgment when seemingly godly people stand before him. “Lord, in your name we prophesied, we cast out demons, and performed many miracles. Surely that’s enough.”

But Jesus replies, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (see Matthew 7:22-23)

You can hang a cross around your neck, wear a WWJD bracelet, go to church (when it fits your schedule!), be a good citizen and vote in every election, even throw some change in the offering–but if you don’t know Jesus, then you’re nothing more than a name-dropper. A poser.

In the verse immediately preceding this passage, Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” This passage points to three truths:

Doing good deeds isn’t enough. Prophesying, casting out demons, and performing miracles required the power of God. At a minimum, these people were trying to help people. But they fell short.

Doing good deeds cannot be equated with doing the will of God. Obviously, according to Jesus, they’re different.

Knowing Jesus and doing God’s will go together. Neither survives alone, but it begins with knowing God.

A common ailment among many believers is what I call “virtual Christianity.” We talk so much about something that we convince ourselves we’re doing it. We do it with prayer, giving, community, etc.

We also do it in our relationship with Jesus.

Don’t just talk about Jesus. Know him.

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


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Lent is Over. Now What?

During the last 60,480 minutes I’ve missed a few things. That’s 1,008 hours for those of you not handy with math. Forty-two days. That’s how long I gave up TV and radio for Lent. Now several days after Easter, the day Lenten fast’s finish, I’m wondering if I really missed anything.

Sure, news happened, even important news. But did I really miss anything?

Rick Santorum suspended his presidential campaign. Newsman Mike Wallace, banjo virtuoso Earl Scruggs, and painter Thomas Kincade all passed. These were great losses. Looming less large, so did Scottish champion darts player, Jocky Wilson and probowler LaVerne Carter.

Also during Lent, Madonna was banned from a talk show, Lindsay Lohan was released from probation and given a warning by a judge, and Ninjas attacked a medical marijuana delivery man.

Depending on your point of view, I may or may not have missed anything.

Sacrifice is always dangerous. It’s an act of release, opening oneself up, vulnerability. When you give something up or away, you always stand the chance of ending up empty-handed or, worse, hurt. That’s also why sacrifice is powerful.

But often in taking a risk, we discover that our sacrifice also makes room in life for something new. That’s why, in my opinion, I don’t think I missed anything in my self-imposed media ban.

I gained.


My daily thoughts have not been held captive by the commercially driven yammering of some talking head or disembodied voice. I’ve not spent one moment worrying about who the next President of the U.S. might be (though I will inform myself and vote), whether it might rain on my parade that day or not, or what the insane governments in Iran and North Korea might do.

My mind has been free to notice life and people near and around me. I’ve taken more pictures, seen spring fight off the blandness of winter, and my voice memo function on my iPhone is full of ideas for sermons, books, articles, and blogs. I’ve rediscovered music. I feel wildly creative. I started writing poetry again.  And I’m partnering with gifted musician, Cliff Hutchison, in writing song lyrics. I’ve prayed for my friends and family more consistently as God brings their names and faces to mind in the absence of media noise.

I gained.


I simply don’t feel as rushed. Standing in my living room as night closes down the day, I’ve often asked myself what I should do next.  It’s a wonderful, languid feeling. Usually I’d be vegging in front of the TV. I’ve taken longer walks with Dee Dee, my wife, and had spontaneous conversations with her. Gone to bed earlier. I have time to write my novel and I’ve read around seven books. Leif Enger’s novel “So Brave, Young, and Handsome” gets better each time I read it. I’ve journaled almost everyday of 2012.

I’m gaining.


It’s not been all sweetness and light, however. This Lenten silence has allowed me to recognize who I am and who I’m not. I, maybe like you, am a pretty flawed person. The noise of TV and radio often allowed me to cover that fact. My journals are just as full of inanities, complaints, and judgements as they are prayers, poems, and pretty prose. And some things have only shifted. Instead of carrying on an imaginary debate with some TV commentator, I now do so with a Facebook friend. Argh.

The ancient but honest theologian and philosopher, Paul of Tarsus, expressed it this way, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” 

Lent’s Over. Now What?

Still I’m not willing to give the reins of even my messy life back to some advertising executive pulling levers behind a curtain. Monday I watched, or rather slept through, the Colorado Rockies’ home opener. But, I’m not going back. Yet. I’ve gained too much to gorge myself on media again. The silence has been exceedingly rich and I’ve seen living spiritually–for me–cannot happen in a world dominated by media noise.

After  60,480 minutes I’ve found I missed nothing. Rather I gained–even if the most disconcerting as well as comforting truth is that I cannot live spiritually, become a better person, on my own. I must agree with Paul again. “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Eugene C. Scott loves listening to the blues, which has nothing to do with this blog, but is worth saying anyway. You can join the Living Spiritually community by following this blog and clicking here and liking the page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.


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Just Another Easter

The Gallups in pastels for Easter

So that was fun.

I’m sure many of your found the courage to wear pastel colors that normally lie dormant in you closet the rest of the year yesterday. Perhaps you got together with family members you would never spend time with unless you had to. You may have eaten a few too many peeps than the recommended serving size. But even if you did none of these, chances are you went to church. Even if yesterday was the only day of the year that you do.

I’m normally a rather sentimental fellow. I cried when I watched Charlotte’s Web; and when I say cried, I mean I sobbed and snot poured out of ny nose and I didn’t care because I was so enraptured in the beauty of the moment. Yeh, I’m one of those. So usually every year around the beginning of Spring, I find myself knee-deep in snot and tears as I become overwhelmed by sheer beauty of the Easter story.

The whole thing is beautiful even if it isn’t personal, but it is. In no way am I worthy of such beauty, such grace, such love, such life. Yet the story of Easter is just about that, the meeting of our complete unworthiness with God’s complete welcome. When the weight of my folly intersects with the glory of God’s love, tears are paltry offerings to express the beauty of redemption.

But this year my eyes stayed dry. I wore my pastel pants, ate candy, went to church, sang about joy, and went to lunch like nothing different happened. I had to ask myself why.

Maybe because like our linen pants and pink ties, we rummage through the closet to find this thing called to Resurrection and pull it out for one day to show it off only to have it stored away till next year. The Resurrection is the climax of the gospel, the story of Jesus. Without it, we have no hope, we have no faith, we have no life. It completes the work of the cross and ushers in a New Creation that is bursting forth light where darkness once reigned. It is at the very center of our faith as Christians, yet for many of us it has already become an afterthought today.

The reality of the Resurrection is that it is not just an event that happened but it is always happening, especially right now. Our hope is that we too participate in the Resurrection through our faith and obedience in Christ. The intersection of our depravity and God’s love is our daily reality. Yet when we think that one day a year is good enough, we are in effect denying the Resurrection.

When we regulate the power of God to some children’s story that only matters peripherally at best, we deny that the tomb is empty. We deny that Jesus truly reigns in our hearts and in our world. This year I saw a spectacle of false joy. I was immersed in a group of people who had traded the truth of Easter for a lie. Because really nothing changed. We put on fake smile to match our shoes and tread upon the gravity of this story.

I may seem a little heavy-handed but I felt the weight of our hypocrisy most clearly yesterday. Instead of shedding tears of joy, I shed tears of sorrow. As my brothers and sisters gave lip service to “He is risen indeed” I wanted to shake them and plead, “do you really believe this?” Because if we did…..I’m not really sure what would happen if we really did.

But here is the power of Easter. The sins of our ignorance, the depravity of our hypocrisy is not met with God’s scorn but with his grace.

If the Resurrection is real then I can hope and rejoice that the life that seemed so distant in the very hearts it was professed to belong to, can (and I believe will) find its home there once again, perhaps even for the first time. The implication of Easter is that we can again cry tears of joy in the face of our hypocrisy because Jesus laid death in its grave.

I did not cry yesterday because I was also part of the denying crowd.

Because my vision was filled solely with our collective hypocrisy, I missed the intersection of grace altogether. I saw our depravity as victorious and that is the very lie the Resurrection destroys. Jesus overcame the grave so that Love can truly win.

Do I really believe this? Because if I did…..

Michael is the Pastor of the Church at Argenta. 


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