Author Archives: Michael J. Klassen

About Michael J. Klassen

Since 1987, I've served as a pastor in various churches. Currently I'm co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church (www.tnc3.org) in Littleton, Colorado. Since 1997, I've written or ghostwritten 12 books and worked on 26 study Bibles. I'm convinced that God changes lives through daily meditation on Scripture. Many people agree, but they feel overwhelmed at the prospect of reading the Bible. What do they read? And how can they understand a book that's over 2000 years old? My hope with this blog is to guide people through the Bible in one year--and provide a forum for my readers to share how God speaks to them through it.

Avoiding Shortcuts To Nowhere

Years ago, our family lived in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area. After spending most of my life in Denver, where the streets run north and south in straight lines, Philadelphia threw me for a loop. Literally.

Many of the roads in Philly date back hundreds of years. One of the main roads in an outlying town is called “Cowpath Road.” Obviously, the road was a converted cow path. Cows don’t walk in straight lines. This is just one of many examples of Philadelphia’s meandering roads.

So at times, when the traffic on the two-lane roads backed up, I tried taking side streets to get ahead. On more than one occasion, my “shortcut” brought me back to my starting point. I was literally driving in circles.

That’s often the case when we take shortcuts in our lives.

Shortcuts To God Will Lead You Nowhere

Growing up in the church, I’ve witnessed the good, the bad, and the ugly in church leadership. At various stages in my life as a pastor, I must admit that I’ve done my part in presenting a poor example of leadership as well. So please understand that I’m not casting stones.

Our human nature gravitates toward following charismatic individuals who speak to us on behalf of God. Often, this is the result of our laziness. Relying on someone who will “stand in” for God is like opting for the Cliff’s Notes version of a great novel. Rather than read the Bible for ourselves and seek an intimate relationship with God, we prefer that someone do it for us.

Moses, Israel’s first great leader, was concerned that after he died, they would follow false prophets who would lead them away from God. So Moses warned Israel, “It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere” (Deuteronomy 13:4).

When our walk with God is dependent upon the leaders we follow, we set ourselves up for tremendous disappointment and pain.

Pastors, TV preachers, televangelists, and authors all must be compared with the plumb line of Scripture. Just because they say something that sounds good, or they say something that we want to be true—doesn’t make it true! Many have led well-meaning believers astray. And history continues to repeat itself.

Not long ago, I witnessed a church split that affected thousands of people. Some of the people who were damaged by the fallout were devastated and vowed never again to return to church or trust a church leader. In my judgment, far too many of those people needlessly followed the Senior Pastor rather than God.

My friends, please join me in following Moses’ advice. Let’s follow God and avoid the unnecessary disappointment and pain that inevitably meets people who depend on fallible men and women for their walk with God.

Shortcuts in our walk with God lead us nowhere.

What shortcuts have you tried in your walk with God? Where did they lead you? If you were hurt from the experience, how did you recover? Have you recovered?

Why would God want us to avoid following people instead of him?

What does this tell you about God?

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

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The Symbols That Define Us

A 4 by 3 inch slice of wood sits on my desk. Fifteen years ago it served as the stump to a Christmas tree that stood in our living room.

That year, I was struck by the fact that my Christmas tree spent  10 years preparing itself to be the family tree for three weeks. In the same way, I realized, God may spend months, even years, preparing me for significant moments.

I keep the tree sample on my desk as a reminder. In many ways, that stump symbolizes  my values–the existence of God, the potentially redemptive nature of pain, the importance of preparing myself for significant moments.

Symbols Are All Around Us

We live in a world of symbols. Photos remind us of past events. Plaques, trophies, and medals take us back to earlier accomplishments. Tattoos on our bodies reveal untold stories. Perhaps you wear a cross to remind you of the steep price Jesus paid to save you from yourself. The symbols we choose to keep nearby say a great deal about our past and our values.

The importance of symbols cannot be understated. A life without them is a life devoid of meaning and memory.

When the children of Israel crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land, they gathered large stones from the bottom of the river and constructed a memorial on the river bank to remind them of the day God parted the waters to bring them home. The stones did more than tell a story—they taught the people about God.

The greatest memorial in the Christian faith is the Lord’s Supper, which reminds us not only of Jesus’ death, but also the forgiveness Jesus purchased for us, our hunger for him, and the importance of community (hence the word “communion”).

What do the symbols in your life communicate about you?

What symbols are missing?

What symbols shouldn’t be there?

As you revisit the memorials in your life, take a moment to listen. What might God be speaking to your heart?

If anything comes to mind, please share it with us!

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. His favorite symbol is a carved, wooden crucifix that hangs on a wall in front of his computer. 

 

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The Truth About Freedom

“I am William Wallace!” the legendary leader shouted to his Scottish brethren in the movie Braveheart. After resisting the repeated attacks of the tyrannical English King Edward the Longshanks, the men were ready to give up.

“And I see a whole army of my countrymen, here in defiance of tyranny. You’ve come to fight as free men…and free men you are. What will you do with that freedom? Will you fight?”

“Fight?” a wearied warrior countered. “Against that? No! We will run. And we will live.”

“Aye, fight and you may die,” their mythical leader replied. “Run, and you’ll live…at least a while.

“And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin’ to trade ALL the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take…OUR FREEDOM!”

Is Freedom Just Another Four Letter Word?

This Wednesday, Americans celebrate Independence Day, the day when our founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It’s a day we celebrate freedom from British rule. (Isn’t it ironic that today, the British are our closest allies?)

Freedom is a core value in the Western world. It’s also those most overused, misunderstood word in the English language.

Years ago, a chain of convenience stores posted the word “freedom” in big letters over their soft drink machines. They celebrated the “freedom” customers enjoyed in choosing from a half dozen different soft drinks.

For this William Wallace and the forefathers of countries around the world died? For this our founding American forefathers risked their lives?

Of course not. People in totalitarian countries assuredly enjoy the option of different soft drinks. But it begs the question: What is the purpose of freedom, and how can we attain it?

The True Purpose Of Freedom

“You, my brothers, were called to be free,” Paul wrote in Galatians 5:13, which sounds like something William Wallace would say.

Our freedoms allow us to make choices that people in previous generations didn’t enjoy. We can worship as we choose, marry whomever we choose, pursue any profession that we choose, and voice our dissatisfaction with our government without fear of retribution. But freedom can be a mixed blessing—just ask people from newly freed countries. Since winning their freedom, Russia has become thoroughly entrenched in corruption and overrun by the mafia.

Our freedoms allow us to surf porn, pick up sexually transmitted diseases, and gamble ourselves into bankruptcy and personal ruin. Extreme examples to be sure—but the possibility to live without restraints is definitely one of the pillars of freedom.

Paul though, continues his thought: “But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature.”

Then he compares the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit. Sexual immorality, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, appear on the list of vices (see Galatians 5:19-21).

Is freedom the right to indulge in any of these vices? Technically speaking, yes. But what if these “vices” are truly vices? If so, then they really represent bondage–the opposite of freedom.

The Deeper Freedom Is The Freedom To Be Who You Truly Are

Paul was a addressing a deeper freedom. Not a freedom to indulge these practices, but a from them. A freedom to be who we really are. A freedom to be the men and women God had in mind before he created the heavens and the earth.

You see, when we give our lives to Jesus, our sins are forgiven and we become a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). The deepest part of us is no longer us but Christ.

Take a look at the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These are all the character traits of Jesus. When he becomes the deepest part of us, they become the deepest part of us as well. But they need to be freed.

Previously, our sinful nature gravitated toward Paul’s list of vices. We couldn’t help ourselves. We may think we’re free, but we’re not. Yet Paul says that the Christian has been unchained. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free,” he wrote in verse 1.

If you have given your life to Jesus, the truest part of you is the fruit of the Spirit, and not the works of the flesh.

Believe it.

Please Join Me In A Conversation!

How does it feel to know that the truest part of you gravitates toward the fruit of the Spirit and not the works of the flesh?

What helps you believe it? What prevents you from believing it?

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. If you or somebody you know is struggling with bondage to a sexual addiction, he highly recommends a book he helped Michael John Cusick write. The newly-released book is entitled “Surfing For God.”

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Rich, Young…and Spiritual?!?

From 1984 to 1995, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous aired on television stations around the world. The host, Robin Leach, introduced viewers to the opulent lifestyles of wealthy entertainers, athletes, and business moguls. At the conclusion of every program, he left viewers with his signature phrase, “champagne wishes and caviar dreams.”

At times, I imagine what my life would be like to sip from the chalice of wealth. Add a dose of God into the mix, and how could I go wrong, right?

Do You Really Want To Be Rich And Famous?

He was an awful lot like me—minus the wealth. And the humility. And the influence. And the impeccable morals.

A rich, young man approached Jesus and asked him, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The man (whom you can read about in Mark 10:17-31 and Luke 18:18-30) was the kind of person every mother wanted for a son-in-law. He would also make a prime candidate for Jesus’ inner circle of disciples:

  • He was obviously spiritual (he asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life—Mark 10:17)
  • He was humble (he fell on his knees before Jesus when he approached him—Mark 10:17)
  • He was moral (he kept the 10 Commandments—Mark 10:19-20)
  • He was influential (he was a ruler—Luke 18:18)
  • And he was RICH (he could support the ministry—Mark 10:22).

He had everything going for him.

“One thing you lack,” Jesus instructed him. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Mark 10:21).

Then we read one of the saddest verses in the gospels: “At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth” (Mark 10:22).

Despite his great resume, it wasn’t enough to inherit eternal life.

What went wrong?

Way, way back, when God prepared the children of Israel to enter the land of promise, he told them, “The [Promised] land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers” (Leviticus 25:23). Other versions of the Bible translate “foreigners and strangers” as “aliens and my tenants.” God’s message is clear: the land didn’t belong to them, it belonged to him.

The covenant that God made with his people acknowledged that he was their God and they were his people. He would take care of them as long as they worshipped him. But they were instructed to live as aliens, caretakers of God’s land. The idea that God owns everything is one of the more prominent themes in Scripture (see Psalm 24:1)

It Boils Down To Who Owns Who

The rich, young man, on the other hand, assumed that his stuff belonged to him. He wanted to be in control of his life instead of entrusting the controls to Jesus. So when Jesus told him that to inherit eternal life, he needed to sell everything and give it to the poor, the rich, young man decided the price was too high.

What’s the cost of inheriting eternal life? Everything. If we have much, it will cost us much. If we have little, the cost is little. But it still costs us everything.

So why was this a big deal to Jesus? I think it boils down to matters of the heart. Following Jesus means giving him the top priority in our life. No contingency plans in case this doesn’t work. Learning to rely on Jesus for everything. That’s a scary step–and it still is for me.

So can we own stuff and still follow Jesus? I’m sure we can—but the question boils down to who owns who? Do we own our stuff or does it own us?

The mistake of the rich young man was that he thought his stuff belonged to him.

Who or what owns you?

Please join me in a conversation today!

  1. If God truly owns everything in your possession—which he does—how does it (or should it) affect the way you use them? What does this imply about our relationship with God?
  2. What is hardest for you to give up in order to inherit eternal life?

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. If you’re interested in reading more about this topic, he recommends the book Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream by David Platt.

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Do You Want To Be More Like Jesus?

The Resident Advisor for my freshman wing in college was an ordained minister with the Church of God in Christ, a predominantly African-American Protestant denomination. As a result, our weekly hall meetings were a unique amalgamation of announcements and church—African-American style.

Terry Rhone challenged us in our commitment to Christ and demonstrated what a follower of Christ looked like. But one night, he left us with an adage that I will never forget.

As you read the following lines, imagine yourself sitting in an African-American church, with the minister standing at the pulpit, dressed in a minister’s robe, wiping his brow and the people fanning themselves around you. Here’s what he said:

Much prayer…much power.

Little prayer…little power.

No prayer…no power.

Scripture offers no sure-fire formulas, but this comes as close to any formula I know of.

As much as many of us avoid it…

As much as many of us talk about it but never do it…

As much as many of us talk about it, don’t do it, and convince ourselves that we are doing it…prayer takes no shortcuts.

In Mark 9, the disciples and teachers of the law were arguing over a poor, helpless boy who is described as “possessed by a spirit.” The term “possessed by a spirit” or “demon-possessed” is a terribly unfair and incorrect translation. A much better translation of this word is “demonized.” A demonized person may be harassed from the outside or from within.

The boy’s symptoms looked like epilepsy, but somehow, some way, demons were harassing him.

Before this event, Jesus had sent out his disciples under his authority. In fact, Mark 3:15 tells us that Jesus gave them “authority to drive out demons.”

Yet they couldn’t drive out this particular demon. In fact, my hunch is that the disciples’ powerlessness was the subject of their argument with the teachers of the law.

And then, with one sentence, Jesus delivered the boy from the demon.

“You deaf and mute spirit,” Jesus said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again” (Mark 9:25).

Later, the disciples pulled Jesus aside and asked him, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” (Mark 9:28)

“This kind can come out only by prayer,” he replied.

But the disciples did pray for the boy.

Think back to my friend Terry’s words:

Much prayer…much power.

Little prayer…little power.

No prayer…no power.

Jesus didn’t limit his prayer life to moments when the situation demanded it. On a regular basis Jesus excused himself from his ministry to spend quality time with his heavenly Father (see Mark 1:35, 6:46, 14:32).

If you’re like me, we don’t start praying fervently until we need God’s intervention. And then when we pray, we start with something like, “God, I know I should have been praying earlier…but I really need your help right now.”

But what if we prayed fervently before we needed God to act on our behalf?

Our lives would be different—and I think we’d look and act a lot more like Jesus.

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. His favorite book on prayer is The Complete Works Of EM Bounds On Prayer. Portions of this post first appeared in the February 27, 2010 installment of The Neighborhood Cafe. 

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What Wayne, Garth, and Alice Cooper tell us about God…and us

In the movie Wayne’s World, Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar produce a television show on a public access station. A Chicago network television station, however, decides to hire the two men to broadcast their program to a much larger audience. Suddenly, their lives are changed as they begin living the dream.

In one scene, the two misfits attend a rock music concert performed by Alice Cooper. Afterward, they’re ushered backstage where they meet their hero. After paying their respects, the rocker invites them to hang out with him.

How do they respond? Click on the above video and find out.

Imagine meeting your greatest hero. How would you respond? Would you be nervous? Would you drop to your knees like Wayne and Garth chanting, “We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!”?

In John’s apocalyptic vision in the Revelation,  God is seated on his throne, surrounded by the twenty-four elders and four living creatures who worship him night and day. Over and over, the four living creatures hover around the throne and repeat these words:

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come. Revelation 4:8

At the same time, the 24 elders kneel before God saying,

You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being. Revelation 4:11

It’s reminiscent of Wayne and Garth when they met Alice Cooper, isn’t it?

Scholars differ on the identity of the 24 elders. Some speculate that they are angelic beings, others believe they represent the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 disciples, still others believe they represent the church. Prophetic visions in Scripture are often murky, which tells me that nailing the details aren’t important. What’s important to us in this passage is that heavenly beings surround the throne, worshiping God. And someday we will join the elders and 4 living creatures worshiping him.

Does this sound boring to you? Is God nothing more than a megalomaniac?

I don’t think we have an inkling of an idea of how great is our God. If we really saw him as he is, we would drop to our knees and join the elders and four living creatures. God is that BIG! He is that much GREATER than us.

It’s no mistake that before the conflict of the ages unfolds in Revelation, we begin with a vision of God seated on the throne. And what are the four living creatures and twenty-four elders saying? That God is great, he created all things for himself, and all life comes from him and exists for him. He is holy and his reign never comes to an end. Not for a moment has his reign decreased, faltered, or been diminished.

The message to us: God is still on the throne. In the midst of John’s exile in Patmos, God is still seated on the throne.

In the midst of the conflict of the ages, God is still on the throne.

In the midst of your conflicts, challenges, and moments of despair, God is still on the throne.

Sometimes we need a reminder.

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. Portions of this post first appeared in the December 13, 2010 installment of The Neighborhood Cafe. 

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Why It’s Good that You’re Not God…

“I can’t believe in a God who would send my brother to hell,” the man told me. His brother had died in a car accident at a young age and he still felt the sharp pain of the tragic loss. The brother wasn’t a follower of Christ, so my friend was wrestling with the final destination of his loved one.

If I were God, I wouldn’t want to send my friend’s brother to hell. Heck—if I were God, I’d do away with hell altogether.

If I were God, I’d come after the Assad regime in Syria and punish them for killing innocent men, women, and children.

If I were God, I’d eliminate pain and broken marriages and child abuse.

If I were God, I’d change the world religions so they’d all inevitably lead to me.

If I were God, I’d find a way to reverse the polarity of the food-space continuum so that desserts yielded zero calories and brussel sprouts  yielded the caloric equivalent of a smothered chimichanga.

If you were God, what would you do? More than changing world events, if you were God, how would you change the beliefs of your religion of choice? Would you make it more tolerant or intolerant, loving or judgmental, rational or mysterious? Would you still eat brussel sprouts?

Fact is, all of us play God at some level. Consciously or subconsciously, we tend to tailor our beliefs to what we wish to be true. This can be quite problematic with 6.8 billion people on the planet. At best, 6,799,999,999 people will be wrong. And I doubt that one remaining person has it right, either.

For our Friday study of God’s word, we’re exploring the epistle of 2 Peter. I find this study fascinating because it speaks so clearly into the culture of our day. At the end of the apostle Peter’s life, he sought to address certain trends in the Christian faith that bore little or no resemblance to the Jesus he knew. For a little background, read Searching For the Authentic Jesus  or last week’s post Tryvon Martin, George Zimmerman, and the Prevention of Truth Decay.

At the beginning of chapter 2, Peter warns his readers about destructive teachers who play God and lead their followers astray.

But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. 2 Peter 2:1–2 (NIV)

In this passage, Peter warns about false prophets and false teachers. The terms are literally translated “pseudoprophets” and “pseudoteachers”—people who purport to teach truth but really teach a lie. What they teach sounds good…but it ain’t necessarily so.

Peter also uses a word that has fallen out of the common vernacular: heresy. Ever notice that no one uses the word anymore? The last time I remember hearing the word, I was watching a Monty Python video clip about the Spanish Inquisition. The hapless inquisitors were prodding  an old lady with a seat cushion in order to get her to recant for espousing heresy.

For you, the word “heresy” might conjure up names like Jim Jones or the Hale Bopp Comet kooks who committed suicide in order to reach an alien spacecraft that was following the comet.

Do you want to know what the word “heresy” literally means? The Greek word for heresy, haireseis, means simply “chosen beliefs.”  Heresies are the tailor-made beliefs we choose for ourselves.

True confession: with that definition in mind, I acknowledge myself as a recovering heretic. Just because I want God to conform to my desires doesn’t mean he does. Nor should he. He’s God and I’m not.

And civilization is a better place because of it.

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. If he were God, he’d spend every day water-skiing.

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